Local Government Without Tiebout
The Urban Lawyer, Vol. 41, No. 1, p. 93, 2009
53 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2010
Many scholars decry interjurisdictional variation in the provision of local public goods. Access to public goods, they argue, should not depend upon private means. Such variation, however, necessarily results when residents are allowed to choose among localities and localities are simultaneously empowered to determine what public goods their residents receive (and to levy taxes accordingly). Residential mobility and local autonomy, Charles Tiebout famously demonstrated, together promote efficiency in the allocation and production of public goods. This Article argues that critics’ objections to variation in local public goods provision are objections to residential sorting among jurisdictions, and not, as is often assumed, to robust local autonomy itself. Local autonomy has valuable features, including efficiency but independent of sorting, that need not promote inequality. Therefore, the appropriate response to the connection between private wealth and access to public goods is to seek local autonomy without Tiebout, i.e., to mitigate the ill effects of sorting without vitiating local autonomy. The Article argues further that this can be accomplished by adapting the institutions of electoral redistricting to local government. Local government boundaries can be drawn and periodically redrawn to create and maintain localities that are economically diverse. These localities would make autonomous public goods decisions, with many of the benefits autonomy brings. However, because local boundaries would react to accretions of wealth or poverty, existing residents would be substantially less able to choose, permanently, the characteristics of their neighbors. Voice would be strengthened and exit weakened.
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