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Revisiting the "Decentralization Theorem" – On the Role of Externalities


  • Marko Köthenbürger


The "Decentralization Theorem" (Oates, 1972) is central to the discussion of fiscal federalism. We revisit the role of consumption spillovers in evaluating the merits of (de)centralization. Unlike the general prediction, a higher degree of spillovers may reduce the difference in utility of centralization and decentralization. The non-monotonicity result relates to the difference in expenditures on public consumption. Provided decentralized choices yield higher levels of public expenditure, a rise in the amount of spillovers allows residents to enjoy larger gains in public consumption (and thereby utility) under decentralization relative to centralization.

Suggested Citation

  • Marko Köthenbürger, 2007. "Revisiting the "Decentralization Theorem" – On the Role of Externalities," CESifo Working Paper Series 2128, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2128

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alberto Alesina & Enrico Spolaore, 1997. "On the Number and Size of Nations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1027-1056.
    2. Alberto Alesina & Ignazio Angeloni & Federico Etro, 2005. "International Unions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 602-615, June.
    3. Guido Tabellini, 2003. "Principles of Policymaking in the European Union: An Economic Perspective," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 49(1), pages 75-102.
    4. Alberto Alesina & Robert J. Barro, 2002. "Currency Unions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(2), pages 409-436.
    5. Brueckner, Jan K., 2006. "Fiscal federalism and economic growth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(10-11), pages 2107-2120, November.
    6. Bergstrom, Theodore & Blume, Lawrence & Varian, Hal, 1986. "On the private provision of public goods," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 25-49, February.
    7. Jan K. Brueckner, 2004. "Fiscal Decentralization with Distortionary Taxation: Tiebout vs. Tax Competition," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 11(2), pages 133-153, March.
    8. Charles M. Tiebout, 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 416-416.
    9. Wallace E. Oates, 1999. "An Essay on Fiscal Federalism," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 1120-1149, September.
    10. Rubinchik-Pessach, Anna, 2005. "Can decentralization be beneficial?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(7), pages 1231-1249, July.
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    More about this item


    federalism; decentralization theorem; externality; policy uniformity;

    JEL classification:

    • H10 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - General
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General
    • H70 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - General


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