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BACKGROUND

On the small habitable moon of a large gas giant, a small branch of humanity lives in peace. One day, a large chunk of the residing countries band together into a unitary communist regime. This new nation, Sovia, is comprised of 13 provinces, each with the same borders as the constituent countries. It is important to note that it is NOT A CONFEDERACY.

THE QUESTION

For what reason would this country have provinces, if they don't have any form of their own government?

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    $\begingroup$ France is a unitary republic and has regions. Italy is a unitary republic and has regions. Poland is a unitary republic and has voivodships. Basically, if the territory is sufficiently large and thus the country has sufficiently many counties, it makes sense to have some sort of administrative structure intermediate between the entire country and a county. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ Single regional environmental difference is enough, laws and oversight you need in a residential district are different than those you need in a farming district. $\endgroup$ – John Mar 11 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ Don't most unitary countries have provinces? Leaving aside the very tiny countries, I was under the assumption that most, if not all, other non-confederate countries have some sort of administrative divisions. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 11 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: As far as I understand, the question asks for a territorial-administrative schema like entire country — region or province — county — township or commune, as opposed to entire country — county — township or commune, which for some reason the querent believes to be more common. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 at 22:45
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For the same reason a very hierarchical structure like a military has subunits; simply stated, there are some things that having to go up the chain of command to the top to deal with will result in the top having to deal with so much unimportant crap they have to deal with that they can't deal with it all, let alone the higher-level things they should be dealing with. So you designate some responsibilities to a lower-level on the hierarchy, and they in turn designate some of those responsibilities even lower as appropriate.

Each level is accountable to the one above for the authority it has been given, but the upper level(s) only get involved if the situation exceeds the ability of the lower level to deal with it, or if there was a screw up.

For a simple analogy, consider a large fire being battled by a fire department.

  • In charge (essentially, the "national government"), you have the incident commander. That person is responsible for the overall strategy and managing the situation.
  • Below the incident commander may be sector commanders ("provinces"). They have their own areas of responsibility. So while Chief Allen is the incident commander, Captains Baker, Curtis, Dean, and Ellis are each given one side of the building. Their individual jobs are to manage their sides of the building. If something happens out of their control (say their water supply cuts off), they alert Chief Allen who has to deal with it. Otherwise, they're left to do the specific jobs they were assigned.
  • Let's say Captain Baker was assigned the east side of the structure. Under his immediate command are Engine 14, Ladder 3, and Rescue 6. Chief Allen sends word he wants the windows on that side of the building busted open to ventilate. He doesn't designate specific units to do it, that's Baker's job, so he tells Engine 14 to open the windows, Ladder 3 to have backup hoses ready, and Rescue 6 is on standby. Allen doesn't care who opens the windows, who is on the hoses, and who is in reserve. That's for Baker to determine.

Otherwise, you'd get a situation where everyone is calling Chief Allen for instructions, so while he's trying to figure out what units on the East side should be opening windows and who should be on backup, he isn't dealing with the urgent message from Captain Curtis on the north side of the building that a collapse seems to be about to happen on their wall. And if he is dealing with that, then the windows on the East side aren't being opened because they're waiting for Allen to give them instructions what to do.

Scale that up to a national level, and you see the problem. Do you really want the president of a large country to spend all his time deciding where to allocate city resources to fix potholes on specific streets?

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    $\begingroup$ Another example of what it's like when there is only one commander and every unit needs instructions is most real time strategy games which require you to think for your soldiers to the point you're not sure they can be trusted to figure out how to use the bathroom on their own... $\endgroup$ – Muuski Mar 11 at 18:29
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The new government will still need local administrators. Might as well keep the previous administrations for that rather than invent new ones. People will like their local politicians after all, they wouldn't be happy to see them all replaced by people from other provinces.

This is pretty much how the United States formed.

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  • $\begingroup$ A new commie state isn't likely to want the old politicians around, but the bureaucracy is probably fine. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 12 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ I think a new commie state is likely to pick and choose which old politicians it keeps. They're not going to get rid of literally all of them all at once. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Mar 15 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ On Earth, standard practice for new "communist" countries was a violent revolution (or invasion) and either exile or execution for existing politicians, land owners, business owners, etc. Why leave their sworn enemies (anyone not communist) in position to stage a counter-revolution? $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 15 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Some politicians will be sympathetic to the new communist government. No reason to purge your old allies. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Mar 15 at 19:53
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All but the smallest polities have nested subdivisions of some kind or name, with the number of levels of hierarchy depending on how large (in both area and population) the polity needs to scale. Typically the upper levels set policy and the lower levels implement it, but sometimes even policymaking is pushed down if there is a need (real or perceived) to have different policies in different places. Whether each level of subdivision is political or administrative is largely irrelevant in practice.

In your case where there were existing governments, it makes sense to keep all their bureaucracies in place and just form a central govt above them to "unify" the policies it feels need unifying but otherwise leave them to do their jobs. This may be seen as a temporary solution for expediency, but such solutions have a tendency to become permanent because they work well enough that nobody cares enough to change them and then "it's how we've always done it."

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There are good reasons to have counties.

  • France has four levels of counties.
  • Germany has three levels of counties.
  • China has many districts, many of which even have diverging policies about the economy (!)
  • Even the Soviets back in their heyday had still things like "the Ukraine" which should decide "local" things.

The central government doesn't want to decide if the village in the woods needs rather a new water pump or a renovation of the road. Those kinds of things are most efficiently decided in the place. If a central government tries to do all this, it will introduce layers of bureaucrats that take ages to decide, or just forget the decision entirely, and the people in that small village will suffer in the meanwhile. The Soviets showed everybody that central planning is not good for everything, only for some things.

What exactly should be done locally and what should be done centrally, is a constantly open question and must be rediscussed eternally. States are not static, but they are dynamic systems; and those dynamics can be surprisingly hard & fast sometimes, especially if they are allowed to build up some momentum over time. Undercutting this momentum is the strength of the small village governments, as they react fast on changes. However, sometimes you want momentum for some topics. This has do be done centrally then.

In France, every village decides about the road system themselves. One village boss blocks the idea of a bus or road connection from the neighbor village boss if he likes - this is an example where a LITTLE bit more centralism would be good. On the other hand, they add a teacher to the school in a few weeks if needed; which is good. The doctor's quota is managed centrally in both, France and Germany, or you could better say not managed - way too many child doctors and no available eye doctors since 10 years in France; the other way round in Germany; those are crazy examples for central management gone wrong. Here you have your reason why you want provinces doing some management themselves.

But for Macroeconomics, the Army and other far-reaching systems or strategic decisions; the bigger the deciding body, the better. Without the WHO, there would be no good answer to COVID-19. Imagine the US had only a Texan army, a Californian army, an Arizona army... The world would be a peaceful place and the US would not be so strong. So for the Army: Bigger = Better.

For your confederacy: a confederation just emphasizes that their parts are as independent as possible, and probably also has stronger decision making on lower level. But even a centralistic empire, which emphasizes slavery over independence, will still have local decision-makers. The Empress will not decide if you put a new light on the road, after all. The differences are gradual.

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  • $\begingroup$ France has has exactly one "level of counties"; they are called départements. Above départements are régions (provinces) and below are communes (townships). Germany is a federation of pretty much autonomous states (called Länder, that is, countries). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a federation of republics; Ukraine was an SSR (a Soviet Socialist Republic) and had its own flag, its own constution, its own government, its own language and its own place at the United Nations. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ So, you tell me that France has the State, the provinces, the departements and the communes. I count 4. Germany has the State, the Länder and the communes (yes). That's 3. $\endgroup$ – Anderas Mar 11 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ France is a unitary republic; that's what the question is asking about. The regions of France are not "counties", as you mischaracterized them; they are large administrative divisions, each of them containing many counties. Germany is a federal republic; and so was the USSR. (Just like the USA or Canada.) It makes no sense to bring them about in answer to a question about unitary states. The question asks why would a unitary state be divided into regions; the situation in Germany or the USSR has nothing to do with this. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP France is a unitary republic it still doesn't preclude a hierarchical organization of the administration over 4 levels. That is what Andreas meant, with an unfortunate choice of words (should've used "administrative division/s" instead of "counties"). $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Mar 11 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ English is not my first language. I am german and lived for a decade in france. If county has a very specific meaning in one specific regional english, I might have taken the wrong word indeed $\endgroup$ – Anderas Mar 12 at 5:55
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Span of control. It is difficult if not impossible to manage too many people. It is very common to set up intermediate levels of government. For example in the United States we have federal, state, county (or parish for Louisiana), and usually town or city. The federal government sets broad guidelines for education, the state sets more specific policies, but the schools are usually ran by the county or city. It would be terribly inefficient if the federal government had to hire janitors for each school in the United States.

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You might want to see the answers to this similar question:

Provinces, what are their practical purposes?1

And you might want to see this list:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_administrative_divisions_by_country2

It lists levels of administrative divisions for each country in the world. And for each country an expert in its government could described how much or how little power each level of administration has.

But apparently every country with every form of government and of every size has at least one level of administrative divisions, though such administrative divisions differ greatly in what their functions are.

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Words are Smoke and Mirrors ...

You have a central government. Presumably they are setting the policy for the entire nation. They might even believe that they are effectively micromanaging things throught terribly detailed five-year-plans, but they are not. Many administrative decisions will be made on a lower level. Possibly several tiers of lower levels, until you reach people who can make the decision about installing traffic lights at a busy intersection.

  • These new administrative districts might follow the old national borders, or not. Following the old borders will have practical advantages on the short run, but it will also perpetuate the old distinctions.
  • The administrative districts might have a local legislative, or not.
  • Most Communist systems have a Communist Party and the party probably has subdivisions below the national level. The members cannot all send attend the central party congress, there must be a way to select delegates. Probably on several tiers.
  • The party subdivisions might match administrative districts, or not. If they do, they can supervise the local administration.
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What does "being in a province" (rather than another) entail?

And why is place X in province A instead of province B?

It might be just a convenient way of referring to places or administering resources, or be there for little more than historical reasons.

You might have gotten "provinces" from a Voronoi tessellation of the territory based on the distance from navigational beacons. All places nearer to Beacon #13 than any other beacon might be part of the "Province" of Trinadcatio, while places nearest to Beacon #8 would constitute the province of Vosemio and so on.

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Some decisions just fundamentally are local, so you will have some form of local government, and this doesn't make you a confederacy at all - it's simply inefficient to, say, have planning permission decisions made nationally. The fact that my bin collection schedule is set by a local government does not make my country a confederacy.

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