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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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  1. Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December.
  2. Maurice Obstfeld and ., 1997. "Dynamic Seigniorage Theory: An Exploration," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C97-085, University of California at Berkeley.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  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. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  7. Sinn, Hans-Werner, 1990. "Tax harmonization and tax competition in Europe," Munich Reprints in Economics 19846, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  8. 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.
  9. Bolton, Patrick & Roland, Gérard, 1995. "The Break up of Nations: A Political Economy Analysis," CEPR Discussion Papers 1225, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. 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.
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