Multilevel Governance, Public Finance, and Distributive Conflict under Austerity

Ned Crowley

Notwithstanding the recent surge in pandemic-related expenditures, rich democracies have been operating, in varying degrees, under conditions of permanent austerity for four decades. Alongside a general constraint on public spending, permanent austerity has often entailed the decentralization of fiscal obligations to local and regional governments, a process that reproduces spatial inequalities between more- and less-deprived locales. Moreover, in shifting fiscal obligations downward, decentralization also relocates the politics of public finance to the local level. This project aims to understand how such “trickle down austerity” influences fiscal capacity and fiscal politics in local governments, beginning with the cases of the United States and United Kingdom. It asks: (a) How do public finance measures implemented by central governments shape spatial patterns of inequality and social deprivation among regions and places? (b) How do local government authorities navigate decentralized fiscal systems under conditions of austerity, especially when it comes to providing for public goods and welfare and promoting decarbonization? (c) Finally, how are local public finance and fiscal politics patterned by differences in national fiscal systems? Project duration: October 2021 to September 2023.

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