IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Centralization versus Decentralization as a Risk-Return Trade-Off


  • Alessandra Arcuri
  • Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci


This paper characterizes the choice between centralization and decentralization as a risk-return trade-off and examines it in a model that integrates ideas from committee decision-making and portfolio theories. Centralization, by pooling expertise, rarely yields erroneous decisions; however, when it fails, the consequences are global. In contrast, in a decentralized system, erroneous decisions are more frequent, but their consequences are locally confined. We assess the relative desirability of (de-)centralization in various scenarios with independent versus interdependent risks. We further discuss the robustness of the model and the relevance of our results for policymaking. (c) 2010 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandra Arcuri & Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci, 2010. "Centralization versus Decentralization as a Risk-Return Trade-Off," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(2), pages 359-378, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:53:y:2010:i:2:p:359-378

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to full text
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bauke Visser & Otto H. Swank, 2007. "On Committees of Experts," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 337-372.
    2. Sah, Raaj Kumar & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1986. "The Architecture of Economic Systems: Hierarchies and Polyarchies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 716-727, September.
    3. Mariano Tommasi & Federico Weinschelbaum, 2007. "Centralization vs. Decentralization: A Principal-Agent Analysis," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(2), pages 369-389, April.
    4. Fisman, Raymond & Gatti, Roberta, 2002. "Decentralization and corruption: evidence across countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(3), pages 325-345, March.
    5. Raaj Kumar Sah, 1991. "Fallibility in Human Organizations and Political Systems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 67-88, Spring.
    6. Ruth Ben-Yashar, 2006. "Information is important to Condorcet jurors," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 127(3), pages 305-319, June.
    7. Charles M. Tiebout, 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 416-416.
    8. Harry Markowitz, 1952. "Portfolio Selection," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 7(1), pages 77-91, March.
    9. Schroeder Ted C. & Tonsor Glynn T. & Pennings Joost M.E. & Mintert James, 2007. "Consumer Food Safety Risk Perceptions and Attitudes: Impacts on Beef Consumption across Countries," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-29, December.
    10. Joseph J. Spengler, 1950. "Vertical Integration and Antitrust Policy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58, pages 347-347.
    11. Bruno S. Frey, 2004. "Dealing with Terrorism – Stick or Carrot?," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 3435.
    12. 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.
    13. Oates, Wallace E. & Schwab, Robert M., 1988. "Economic competition among jurisdictions: efficiency enhancing or distortion inducing?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 333-354, April.
    14. Edelman, Paul H, 2002. "On Legal Interpretations of the Condorcet Jury Theorem," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 327-349, June.
    15. Romano, Roberta, 1985. "Law as a Product: Some Pieces of the Incorporation Puzzle," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(2), pages 225-283, Fall.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Kimiko Terai & Amihai Glazer, 2014. "Insufficient Experimentation Because Agents Herd," Keio-IES Discussion Paper Series 2014-008, Institute for Economics Studies, Keio University.
    2. Charles F. Manski, 2015. "Randomizing Regulatory Approval for Adaptive Diversification and Deterrence," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S2), pages 367-385.
    3. Franziska Weber, 2013. "European integration assessed in the light of the ‘rules vs. standards debate’," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 187-210, April.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:53:y:2010:i:2:p:359-378. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Journals Division). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.