Around the world, capital cities are disgorging bureaucrats. In the post-colonial fervour of the 20th century, coastal capitals picked by trade-focused empires were spurned for “regionally neutral” new ones . . . . But decamping wholesale is costly and unpopular; governments these days prefer piecemeal dispersal. The trend reflects how the world has changed. In past eras, when information travelled at a snail’s pace, civil servants had to cluster together. But now desk-workers can ping emails and video-chat around the world. Travel for face-to-face meetings may be unavoidable, but transport links, too, have improved. . . .
Proponents of moving civil servants around promise countless benefits. It disperses the risk that a terrorist attack or natural disaster will cripple an entire government. Wonks in the sticks will be inspired by new ideas that walled-off capitals cannot conjure up. Autonomous regulators perform best far from the pressure and lobbying of the big city. Some even hail a cure for ascendant cynicism and populism. The unloved bureaucrats of faraway capitals will become as popular as firefighters once they mix with regular folk.
Beyond these sunny visions, dispersing central-government functions usually has three specific aims: to improve the lives of both civil servants and those living in clogged capitals; to save money; and to redress regional imbalances. The trouble is that these goals are not always realised.
The first aim—improving living conditions—has a long pedigree. After the second world war Britain moved thousands of civil servants to “agreeable English country towns” as London was rebuilt. But swapping the capital for somewhere smaller is not always agreeable. Attrition rates can exceed 80%. . . . The second reason to pack bureaucrats off is to save money. Office space costs far more in capitals. . . . Agencies that are moved elsewhere can often recruit better workers on lower salaries than in capitals, where well-paying multinationals mop up talent.
The third reason to shift is to rebalance regional inequality. . . . Norway treats federal jobs as a resource every region deserves to enjoy, like profits from oil. Where government jobs go, private ones follow. . . . Sometimes the aim is to fulfil the potential of a country’s second-tier cities. Unlike poor, remote places, bigger cities can make the most of relocated government agencies, linking them to local universities and businesses and supplying a better-educated workforce. The decision in 1946 to set up America’s Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta rather than Washington, D.C., has transformed the city into a hub for health-sector research and business.
The dilemma is obvious. Pick small, poor towns, and areas of high unemployment get new jobs, but it is hard to attract the most qualified workers; opt for larger cities with infrastructure and better-qualified residents, and the country’s most deprived areas see little benefit. . . . Others contend that decentralisation begets corruption by making government agencies less accountable. . . . A study in America found that state-government corruption is worse when the state capital is isolated—journalists, who tend to live in the bigger cities, become less watchful of those in power.
According to the author, relocating government agencies has not always been a success for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:
- high staff losses, as people may not be prepared to move to smaller towns.
- the difficulty of attracting talented, well-skilled people in more remote areas.
- increased avenues of corruption away from the capital city.
- a rise in pollution levels and congestion in the new locations.
According to the passage, colonial powers located their capitals:
- based on political expediency.
- to promote their trading interests.
- where they had the densest populations.
- to showcase their power and prestige.
The “long pedigree” of the aim to shift civil servants to improve their living standards implies that this move:
- takes a long time to achieve its intended outcomes.
- has become common practice in several countries worldwide.
- is supported by politicians and the ruling elites.
- is not a new idea and has been tried in the past.
The “dilemma” mentioned in the passage refers to:
- relocating government agencies to boost growth in remote areas with poor amenities or to relatively larger cities with good amenities.
- keeping government agencies in the largest city with good infrastructure or moving them to a remote area with few amenities.
- concentrating on decongesting large cities or focusing on boosting employment in relatively larger cities.
- encouraging private enterprises to relocate to smaller towns or not incentivising them in order to keep government costs in those towns low.
People who support decentralising central government functions are LEAST likely to cite which of the following reasons for their view?
- It reduces expenses as infrastructure costs and salaries are lower in smaller cities.
- Policy makers may benefit from fresh thinking in a new environment.
- More independence could be enjoyed by regulatory bodies located away from political centres.
- It could weaken the nexus between bureaucrats and media in the capital.
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