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Interstate Competition and the Race to the Top

12 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2012  

Jonathan H. Adler

Case Western Reserve University School of Law; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: March 2, 2012


This essay, based on remarks at the 2011 Federalist Society Student Symposium, discusses some of the benefits of federalism. Many of the benefits of federalism derive from interjurisdictional competition, as competition among jurisdictions is a powerful means to discover and promote welfare-enhancing policies. Decentralizing authority over various policy matters also leaves states free to account for regional variation and can facilitate policy discovery and entrepreneurship and reduce the risks of policy failures. While the arguments for decentralization are strong, there are persuasive justifications for federal intervention in some instances, such as the existence of interstate spillovers. Fears of a “race to the bottom” is not a persuasive justification for federal intervention, and federal intervention to prevent such a “race” can hamper welfare-enhancing interjurisdictional competition.

Keywords: federalism, interjurisdictional competition, decentralization, Clean Air Act, environmental law, race to the bottom, race to the top, interstate pollution, interstate spillover, wetlands

JEL Classification: K23, K32

Suggested Citation

Adler, Jonathan H., Interstate Competition and the Race to the Top (March 2, 2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 35, No. 1; Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-7. Available at SSRN:

Jonathan H. Adler (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

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