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The Theory of Fiscal Federalism: What Does it Mean for Europe?

  • Torsten Persson
  • Gerard Roland
  • Guido Tabellini

At the core of the ongoing political and academic debate on European integration lies a fundamental question: what is the appropriate assignment of policy tasks to different levels of government? This paper asks what economic theory has to say about this normative problem. Our starting point is traditional economic theory, which approaches the question of policy assignment from the perspective of social welfare maximization by a Pigovian benevolent planner. Then, we discuss the political economics approach to this same question. Two themes run through the paper. The first theme is that, when allowing for political economy considerations, straightforward normative conclusions on the appropriate degree of centralization are much more difficult to draw. The second theme relates to the existence of complementarities between policy dimensions. Complementarities imply that, in the absence of clear constitutional safeguards, the process of European integration is unstable and fragile. We conclude with a discussion of how to combine flexibility and commitment in the process of European integration.

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Paper provided by IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University in its series Working Papers with number 101.

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Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:101
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  1. Maurice Obstfeld, 1989. "Dynamic Seigniorage Theory: An Exploration," NBER Working Papers 2869, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Hans-Werner Sinn, 1990. "Tax Harmonization and Tax Competition in Europe," NBER Working Papers 3248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Henning Bohn & Robert P. Inman, 1996. "Balanced Budget Rules and Public Deficits: Evidence from the U.S. States," NBER Working Papers 5533, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Qian, Yingyi & Roland, Gérard, 1994. "Regional Decentralization and the Soft Budget Constraint: The Case of China," CEPR Discussion Papers 1013, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Bolton, Patrick & Roland, Gerard, 1996. "Distributional Conflicts, Factor Mobility, and Political Integration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 99-104, May.
  6. Bolton, Patrick & Roland, Gérard, 1995. "The Break up of Nations: A Political Economy Analysis," CEPR Discussion Papers 1225, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
  8. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1996. "Federal Fiscal Constitutions: Risk Sharing and Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 979-1009, October.
  9. Buchanan, James M & Faith, Roger L, 1987. "Secession and the Limits of Taxation: Toward a Theory of Internal Exit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 1023-31, December.
  10. Gordon, Roger H, 1983. "An Optimal Taxation Approach to Fiscal Federalism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 98(4), pages 567-86, November.
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