Publications on Federalism
Moral Hazard and the State Budget Crisis
One-Pager No. 64 | August 2020As congressional negotiations stall and state governments are poised to enact significant austerity, Alex Williams argues that fiscal aid to state governments should be tied to economic indicators rather than the capriciousness of federal legislators. Building this case for reform requires confronting a common objection: that state fiscal aid creates situations of moral hazard. This objection misconstrues the agency of state governments and misunderstands the incentives of federal politicians, according to Williams. There is a serious moral hazard problem involved here—but it is not the one widely claimed.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Alex Williams
Moral Hazard in a Modern Federation
Public Policy Brief No. 152, 2020 | August 2020The mainstream fiscal federalism literature has led to an instinctive belief that states receiving fiscal aid during a recession are taking advantage of the federal government in pursuit of localized benefits with dispersed costs. This policy brief by Alex Williams challenges this unreflective argument and, in response, offers a novel framework for understanding the relationship between the business cycle and fiscal federalism in the United States.
Utilizing the work of Michael Pettis, Williams demonstrates that a government unable to design its own capital structure is not meaningfully an agent with respect to the business cycle. As such, they cannot be considered agents in a moral hazard problem when receiving support from the federal government during a recession.
From the perspective of this policy brief, the operative moral hazard problem is one in which federal-level politicians reap a political benefit from a seemingly principled refusal to increase federal spending, while avoiding blame for crisis and austerity at the state and local government level. Williams’ proposed solution is to impose macroeconomic discipline on federal policymakers by creating automatic stabilizers that take decisions about the level of state fiscal aid in a recession out of their hands.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Alex Williams
Determining Gender Equity in Fiscal Federalism: Analytical Issues and Empirical Evidence from India
Working Paper No. 590 | March 2010
Despite the policy realm’s growing recognition of fiscal devolution in gender development, there have been relatively few attempts to translate gender commitments into fiscal commitments. This paper aims to engage in this significant debate, focusing on the plausibility of incorporating gender into financial devolution, with the Thirteenth Finance Commission of India as backdrop. Given the disturbing demographics—the monotonous decline in the juvenile sex ratio, especially in some of the prosperous states of India—there can be no valid objection to using Finance Commission transfers for this purpose. A simple method for accomplishing this could be to introduce some weight in favor of the female population of the states in the Commission’s fiscal devolution formula. The message would be even stronger and more appropriate if the population of girl children only—that is, the number of girls in the 0–6 age cohort—is adopted as the basis for determining the states’ relative shares of the amount to be disbursed by applying the allotted weight. A special dispensation for girls would also be justifiable in a scheme of need-based equalization transfers. While social mores cannot be changed by fiscal fiats, particularly when prejudices run deep, a proactive approach by a high constitutional body like the Finance Commission is called for, especially when the prejudices are blatantly oppressive. Indeed, such action is imperative. The intergovernmental transfer system can and should play a role in upholding the right to life for India’s girl children. That being said, it needs to be mentioned that it is not plausible to incorporate more gender variables in the Finance Commission’s already complex transfer formula. In other words, inclusion of a “gender inequality index” in the formula may not result in the intended results, as the variables included in the index may cancel one another out. Accepting the fact that incorporating gender criteria in fiscal devolution could only be the second-best principle for engendering fiscal policy, the paper argues that newfound policy space for the feminization of local governance, coupled with an engendered fiscal devolution to the third tier, can lead to public expenditure decisions that correspond more closely to the revealed preferences (“voice”) of women. With the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, this policy space is favorable at the local level for conducting gender responsive budgeting.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):