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Distributive Politics and the Costs of Centralization


  • Ben Lockwood


This paper studies the choice between centralization and decentralization of fiscal policy in a political economy setting. With centralization, regional delegates vote over agendas comprising sets of region-specific projects. The outcome is inefficient because the choice of projects is insufficiently sensitive to within-region benefits. The number of projects funded may be non-monotonic in the strength of project externalities. The efficiency gains from decentralization, and the performance of “constitutional rules” (such as majority voting) which may be used to choose between decentralization and centralization, are then discussed in this framework. Weaker externalities and more heterogeneity between regions need not increase the efficiency gain from decentralization. Copyright 2002, Wiley-Blackwell.

Suggested Citation

  • Ben Lockwood, 2002. "Distributive Politics and the Costs of Centralization," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 313-337.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:69:y:2002:i:2:p:313-337

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Caillaud, B. & Jullien, B. & Picard, P., 1996. "National vs European incentive policies: Bargaining, information and coordination," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 91-111, January.
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    3. Ellingsen, Tore, 1998. "Externalities vs internalities: a model of political integration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 251-268, May.
    4. Nicola Persico & Alessandro Lizzeri, 2001. "The Provision of Public Goods under Alternative Electoral Incentives," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 225-239, March.
    5. Olson, Mancur, 1986. "Toward a More General Theory of Governmental Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 120-125, May.
    6. Cremer, Jacques & Palfrey, Thomas R., 1996. "In or out?: Centralization by majority vote," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 43-60, January.
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    8. Timothy Besley & Stephen Coate, 1997. "An Economic Model of Representative Democracy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(1), pages 85-114.
    9. Gilbert, Guy & Picard, Pierre, 1996. "Incentives and optimal size of local jurisdictions," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 19-41, January.
    10. Rothschild, Michael & Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1970. "Increasing risk: I. A definition," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 225-243, September.
    11. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434-434.
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    13. John Joseph Wallis & Wallace E. Oates, 1988. "Decentralization in the Public Sector: An Empirical Study of State and Local Government," NBER Chapters,in: Fiscal Federalism: Quantitative Studies, pages 5-32 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Seabright, Paul, 1996. "Accountability and decentralisation in government: An incomplete contracts model," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 61-89, January.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • H70 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - General
    • H72 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Budget and Expenditures


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