Why do Differences in the Degree of Fiscal Decentralization Endure?
Therese J. McGuire
A notable difference between the U.S. and many countries in Europe is in the degree of fiscal decentralization. Regional (and local) governments in the U.S. have significant autonomy in setting their own taxes and determining how to spend their revenues. This is not true of their counterparts in Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Czech Republic and many other European countries. In recent years, many countries formerly subject to dictatorships or communism have been considering decentralizing fiscal responsibility to sub-national governments as part of the process of democratization (see Bird and Ebel, forthcoming). Yet, much of Europe remains immune to adopting effective decentralization in which sub-national units have true taxing authority.
Fiscal decentralization, regional solidarity, efficiency, preferences for equality
Differences in the degree of fiscal decentralization observed between the U.S. and many countries in Europe cannot be explained within the standard theory of fiscal decentralization. By introducing preferences for solidarity – equality in the provision of public goods and services across regions – we show that different decentralization schemes can coexist as efficient choices. We develop a model of fiscal decentralization that incorporates tastes for solidarity, multiple levels of government, and various tax and transfer instruments. We find that when solidarity is added to the traditional fiscal-federalism framework, the choice along the decentralized-to-centralized spectrum shifts toward a more centralized system.
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