Publications on State and local government finance
There are 4 publications for State and local government finance.
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
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
Policy Note 2020/2 | April 2020The federal government appears to have abandoned the idea of a coordinated public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the entirety to state and local governments. Meanwhile, the economic standstill resulting from necessary public health measures will soon cripple state and local budgets. Alexander Williams outlines a proposal for an intragovernmental automatic stabilizer program that would provide a backstop for state and local finances—both during the pandemic and beyond. Without this program, states will be severely constrained in their ability to respond to COVID-19, and balanced budget requirements will force them to cut jobs and raise taxes during the deepest recession in living memory.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Alex Williams
Working Paper No. 936 | September 2019
The Modern Money Theory ApproachThis paper will present the Modern Money Theory approach to government finance. In short, a national government that chooses its own money of account, imposes a tax in that money of account, and issues currency in that money of account cannot face a financial constraint. It can make all payments as they come due. It cannot be forced into insolvency. While this was well understood in the early postwar period, it was gradually “forgotten” as the neoclassical theory of the household budget constraint was applied to government finance. Matters were made worse by the development of “generational accounting” that calculated hundreds of trillions of dollars of government red ink through eternity due to “entitlements.” As austerity measures were increasingly adopted at the national level, fiscal responsibility was shifted to state and local governments through “devolution.” A “stakeholder” approach to government finance helped fuel white flight to suburbs and produced “doughnut holes” in the cities. To reverse these trends, we need to redevelop our understanding of the fiscal space open to the currency issuer—expanding its responsibility not only for national social spending but also for helping to fund state and local government spending. This is no longer just an academic debate, given the challenges posed by climate change, growing inequality, secular stagnation, and the rise of Trumpism.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):