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Centralisation versus Decentralisation of Public Policies: Does the Heterogeneity of Individual Preferences Matter?

  • Carlo Mazzaferro
  • Alberto Zanardi

This paper explores the role of the heterogeneity of fiscal preferences in the assignment of policy tasks to different levels of government (decentralisation versus centralisation). With reference to a sample of European countries, a median-voter mechanism of collective decision is assumed to work at both a national and a supranational level. Using data from a large international survey (the International Social Survey Programme, ISSP), a series of econometric models are estimated in order to make individual attitudes representative of different categories of public expenditure and of different countries. The dominance of decentralisation over centralisation or vice versa is determined on the basis of the utility loss that each individual suffers in connection with the distance between his or her own most preferred level of public expenditure and that chosen by the national/supranational median voter. The main finding is that, differently from the predictions of Oates's decentralisation theorem, the assignment of responsibilities at the supranational level (centralisation) for a number of public expenditure programmes (healthcare, education, unemployment benefits) dominates (or is close to dominating) decentralisation, even in the absence of economies of scale and interregional spillovers. However, when the possibility of interjurisdictional mobility is explicitly considered, in line with the predictions of Tiebout's model, decentralisation dominance becomes more and more substantial and also prevails in the sectors where, under the nonmobility assumption, the assignment of responsibilities at the supranational level is efficient. Copyright (c) 2008 The Authors.

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Article provided by Institute for Fiscal Studies in its journal Fiscal Studies.

Volume (Year): 29 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (03)
Pages: 35-73

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Handle: RePEc:ifs:fistud:v:29:y:2008:i:1:p:35-73
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