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Experimentation in Federal Systems

Listed author(s):
  • Steven Callande
  • Bård Harstad

We develop a model of policy experimentation in federal systems in which heterogeneous districts choose both whether to experiment and the policies to experiment with. The prospect of informational spillovers implies that in the first best the districts converge in their policy choice. Strikingly, when authority is decentralized, the equilibrium predicts the opposite. The districts use their policy choice to discourage other districts from free-riding on them, thereby inefficiently minimizing informational spillovers. To address this failure, we introduce a dynamic form of federalism in which the central government harmonizes policy choices only after the districts have experimented. This progressive concentration of power induces a policy tournament that can increase the incentive to experiment and encourage policy convergence. We compare outcomes under the different systems and derive the optimal levels of district heterogeneity. JEL Codes: D78, H77.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qjv008
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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 130 (2015)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 951-1002

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Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:130:y:2015:i:2:p:951-1002
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  1. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1999. "Political economics and macroeconomic policy," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 22, pages 1397-1482 Elsevier.
  2. Ben Lockwood, 2002. "Distributive Politics and the Costs of Centralization," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 313-337.
  3. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 2002. "Political economics and public finance," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 24, pages 1549-1659 Elsevier.
  4. Godfrey Keller & Sven Rady & Martin Cripps, 2005. "Strategic Experimentation with Exponential Bandits," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(1), pages 39-68, January.
  5. Kollman, Ken & Miller, John H & Page, Scott E, 2000. "Decentralization and the Search for Policy Solutions," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(1), pages 102-128, April.
  6. Wallace E. Oates, 1999. "An Essay on Fiscal Federalism," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 1120-1149, September.
  7. Koleman S. Strumpf & Felix Oberholzer-Gee, 2002. "Endogenous Policy Decentralization: Testing the Central Tenet of Economic Federalism," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(1), pages 1-36, February.
  8. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 2003. "Centralized versus decentralized provision of local public goods: a political economy approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(12), pages 2611-2637, December.
  9. Jacques Cremer & Thomas R. Palfrey, 2000. "Federal Mandates by Popular Demand," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(5), pages 905-927, October.
  10. Bård Harstad, 2007. "Harmonization and Side Payments in Political Cooperation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 871-889, June.
  11. Strumpf, Koleman S, 2002. " Does Government Decentralization Increase Policy Innovation?," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 4(2), pages 207-241.
  12. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1996. "Federal Fiscal Constitutions: Risk Sharing and Moral Hazard," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(3), pages 623-646, May.
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