DP632 Fiscal Federalism and Optimum Currency Areas: Evidence for Europe from the United States

Author(s): Jeffrey Sachs, Xavier Sala-i-Martin
Publication Date: March 1992
Keyword(s): Exchange Rate, Exchange Rate Arrangements, Fiscal Federalism
JEL(s): F31, F33, H00
Programme Areas: International Macroeconomics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=632

The main aim of this paper is to estimate the extent to which the Federal Government of the United States insures member states against regional income shocks. We find that a one dollar reduction in a region's per capita personal income triggers a reduction in federal taxes of about 34 cents and an increase in federal transfers of about 6 cents. Hence, the final reduction in disposable per capita income is around 60 cents. That is, between one-third and one-half of the initial shock to the region is absorbed by the Federal Government. Taxes respond more strongly to regional imbalances than do transfers. The main mechanism at work is the federal income tax system, which implies that the stabilization process is automatic rather than specifically designed each time there is a cyclical movement in income. Some economists may argue that this regional insurance scheme, provided by the Federal Government, is an important reason why the US system of fixed exchange rates has survived without major difficulties. According to this view, Europeans who look to the United States as a model for Europe should seriously consider the creation (or expansion) of a federal fiscal system at the same time as they create a European Central Bank that issues a unified European currency. The creation of the latter without the insurance mechanism provided by the former could endanger the entire process of monetary unification. Approximate calculations of the impact of the existing European tax system on regional income suggests that a one dollar shock to regional GDP will reduce tax payments to the EC government by half a cent. Hence, the current European tax system has a long way to go before it reaches the 34 cents response of the US system.