Decentralization and the Welfare State: Territorial Disparities, Regional Governments and Political Parties Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Kleider, Hanna
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • This dissertation analyzes decentralization processes and their impact on the welfare state. I argue that decentralization processes amplify the impact of regional differences in partisanship and regional socio-economic disparities on social spending. Decentralized systems therefore exhibit significantly higher levels of within-country social program heterogeneity, which in turn can lead to higher levels of territorial inequality. By putting a spotlight on regional social expenditure, this dissertation departs from existing welfare state research, which predominantly focuses on the effects of decentralization on national social policy-making. Furthermore, the analysis moves beyond the unitary-federal dichotomy of earlier studies by relying on more nuanced measures of decentralization. To understand regional social policy-making I develop a multi-level theory that conceptualizes regional governments as actors constrained both by regional context and the leverage of a superordinate level of government. I test hypotheses derived from this multi-level theory using a novel dataset on regional spending that I compiled for this purpose. The dataset combines data on regional spending for 14 OECD countries from 1990 to 2010 in three policy areas: social welfare, education, and healthcare. Using a three-level model that accounts for the nested structure of regional spending data over time, I demonstrate that the ideological orientation of regional governments has the most consistent effect on regional social program generosity. Left-leaning regional governments tend to pursue more generous social programs than right-leaning governments. This finding contradicts earlier accounts of regional policy-making that have described it as non-political. My analysis also shows that context factors like regional GDP per capita and regional demographic factors strongly impact regional social policy expenditure. Regional social policy choices are however also impacted by the macro-institutional context, in particular by the level and quality of decentralization. Higher levels of decentralization amplify the effects of regional affluence and regional partisanship. My analysis further shows that decentralization contributes to higher levels of within-country variation in social spending. This contradicts popular accounts of decentralization, which argue that the competitive pressures inherent in decentralized systems force regional governments to converge on similar and low levels of social spending. I do however find that policy coordination between regional governments counteracts the variation-increasing effect of decentralization. Fiscal equalization schemes seem to reduce within-country variation although their effect is weak and less consistent across countries.
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  • In Copyright
  • Stephens, John
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

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