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Fiscal Federalism: US History for Architects of Europe's Fiscal Union

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  • C. Randall Henning

    () (Peterson Institute for International Economics)

  • Martin Kessler

    () (Peterson Institute for International Economics)

Abstract

European debates over reform of the fiscal governance of the euro area frequently reference fiscal federalism in the United States. The "fiscal compact" agreed by the European Council during 2011 provided for the introduction of, among other things, constitutional rules or framework laws known as "debt brakes" in the member states of the euro area. In light of the compact and proposals for deeper fiscal union, we review US fiscal federalism from Alexander Hamilton to the present. We note that within the US system the states are "sovereign": The federal government does not mandate balanced budgets nor, since the 1840s, does it bail out states in fiscal trouble. States adopted balanced budget rules of varying strength during the nineteenth century and these rules limit debt accumulation. Before introducing debt brakes for euro area member states, however, Europeans should consider three important caveats. First, debt brakes are likely to be more durable and effective when "owned" locally rather than mandated centrally. Second, maintaining a capacity for countercyclical macroeconomic stabilization is essential. Balanced budget rules have been viable in the US states because the federal government has a broad set of fiscal powers, including countercyclical fiscal action. Finally, because debt brakes threaten to collide with bank rescues, the euro area should unify bank regulation and create a common fiscal pool for restructuring the banking system.

Suggested Citation

  • C. Randall Henning & Martin Kessler, 2012. "Fiscal Federalism: US History for Architects of Europe's Fiscal Union," Working Paper Series WP12-1, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:iie:wpaper:wp12-1
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    Cited by:

    1. Fahrholz Christian & Freytag Andreas, 2014. "Finanzpolitik in Europa zwischen Subsidiarität und Vergemeinschaftung: Eine ordnungsökonomische Analyse / Between subsidiarity and Europeanization: An ordo-liberal perspective on financial policy," ORDO. Jahrbuch für die Ordnung von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, De Gruyter, vol. 65(1), pages 99-116, January.
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    5. Angel Ubide, 2013. "Reengineering EMU for an Uncertain World," Policy Briefs PB13-4, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
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    7. Győrffy, Dóra, 2014. "Válság és válságkezelés Görögországban. A puha költségvetési korlát szerepe a gazdasági összeomlásban
      [Crisis and crisis management in Greece. The role of soft budget constraints in the economic co
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(1), pages 27-52.
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    25. repec:ksa:szemle:1732 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    fiscal federalism; balanced budget rules; US financial history; state debt; euro crisis; fiscal compact;

    JEL classification:

    • H77 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Intergovernmental Relations; Federalism
    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions
    • N41 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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