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On the Theory and Practice of Fiscal Decentralization

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  • Wallace E. Oates

    () (Department of Economics, University of Maryland, 3105 Tydings Hall College Park, MD 20742)

Abstract

The traditional theory of public finance has made a strong case for a major role for fiscal decentralization. This case is based on an improved allocation of resources in the public sector. And it has four basic elements. First, regional or local governments are in a position to adapt outputs of public services to the preferences and particular circumstances of their constituencies, as compared to a central solution which presumes that one size fits all. Second, in a setting of mobile households, individuals can seek out jurisdictions that provide outputs well suited to their tastes, thereby increasing the potential gains from the decentralized provision of public services (Tiebout 1956). Third, in contrast to the monopolist position of the central government, decentralized levels of government face competition from their neighbors; such competition constrains budgetary growth and provides pressures for the efficient provision of public services. And fourth, decentralization may encourage experimentation and innovation as individual jurisdictions are free to adopt new approaches to public policy; in this way, decentralization can provide a valuable Alaboratory for fiscal experiments. However, this basic economic rationale for decentralization of the public sector is not quite so simple and compelling as it appears. Some of the more recent literature provides, first, a thoughtful and provocative critique of the traditional view of fiscal decentralization, and, second, some new approaches that reveal its dark side, especially in practice. There is emerging, in short, a broader perspective on fiscal decentralization that raises some serious questions about its capacity to provide an unambiguously positive contribution to an improved performance of the public sector. My purpose in this paper is twofold. First, I want to review the basic theory of fiscal decentralization. There are some loose ends to the traditional argument that open up some intriguing issues. Second, I
(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

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  • Wallace E. Oates, 2006. "On the Theory and Practice of Fiscal Decentralization," Working Papers 2006-05, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifr:wpaper:2006-05
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Debra Hevenstone & Ben Jann, 2016. "Fiscal Federalism and Tax Equalization: The potential for progressive local taxes," University of Bern Social Sciences Working Papers 19, University of Bern, Department of Social Sciences.
    2. Edoardo Di Porto & Angela Parenti & Sonia Paty & Zineb Abidi, 2017. "Local government cooperation at work: a control function approach," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 435-463.
    3. Aldasoro, Iñaki & Seiferling, Mike, 2014. "Vertical fiscal imbalances and the accumulation of government debt," SAFE Working Paper Series 61, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.
    4. Kinam Kim & Peter J. Lambert, 2009. "Redistributive Effect of U.S. Taxes and Public Transfers, 1994-2004," Public Finance Review, , vol. 37(1), pages 3-26, January.
    5. Stoilova Desislava & Patonov Nikolay, 2012. "Fiscal Decentralization: Is It a Good Choice for the Small New Member States of the EU?," Scientific Annals of Economics and Business, De Gruyter Open, vol. 59(1), pages 125-137, July.
    6. Torrisi, Gianpiero & Pike, Andy & Tomaney, John & Tselios, Vassilis, 2011. "Defining and measuring decentralisation: a critical review," MPRA Paper 51441, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Dongwon Lee, 2016. "Supermajority rule and bicameral bargaining," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 169(1), pages 53-75, October.
    8. Dongwon Lee, 2015. "Supermajority rule and the law of 1/n," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 164(3), pages 251-274, September.
    9. Eyraud, Luc & Lusinyan, Lusine, 2013. "Vertical fiscal imbalances and fiscal performance in advanced economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(5), pages 571-587.
    10. George Hammond & Mehmet S. Tosun, 2006. "Local Decentralization and Economic Growth: Evidence from U.S. Metropolitan and Non-Metropolitan Regions," Working Papers 06-002, University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Economics;University of Nevada, Reno , Department of Resource Economics.
    11. David E. Wildasin, 2006. "Disasters: Issues for State and Federal Government Finances," Working Papers 2006-07, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.
    12. Ichiro Aoki, 2008. "Decentralization and Intergovernmental Finance in Japan," Finance Working Papers 23074, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
    13. Liesbet Hooghe & Gary Marks, 2012. "Beyond Federalism - Estimating and Explaining the Territorial Structure of Government," KFG Working Papers p0037, Free University Berlin.
    14. repec:taf:rjapxx:v:16:y:2011:i:1:p:3-14 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Lars-Erik Borge, 2006. "Centralized or decentralized financing of local governments? Consequences for efficiency and inequality of service provision," Working Paper Series 7806, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
    16. Vito Tanzi, 2010. "Revenue Sharing Arrangements: Options and Relative Merits (The Mahbub ul Haq Memorial Lecture)," The Pakistan Development Review, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, vol. 49(4), pages 311-332.
    17. David Wildasin, 2009. "State and Local Government Finance in the Current Crisis: Time for Emergency Federal Relief?," Working Papers 2009-07, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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