The Global Debt Crisis: Haunting U.S. and European Federalism

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Debt crises have placed strains not only on the European Union's nascent federal system but also on the federal system in the United States. Old confrontations over fiscal responsibility are being renewed, often in a more virulent form, in places as far flung as Detroit, Michigan, and Valencia, Spain, to say nothing of Greece and Cyprus. Increasing the complexity of the issue has been public sector collective bargaining, now a component of most federal systems.

The attendant political controversies have become the debate of a generation. Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler have assembled experts from both sides of the Atlantic to break down the structural flaws in federal systems of government that have led to economic and political turmoil. Proposed solutions offer ways to preserve and restore vibrant federal systems that meet the needs of communities struggling for survival in an increasingly unified global economy.

Contributors: Andrew G. Biggs (American Enterprise Institute); César Colino (National Distance Education University, Madrid); Eloísa del Pino (Instituto de Políticas y Bienes Públicos, Madrid); Henrik Enderlein (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin); Cory Koedel (University of Missouri); Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón (Harvard University); Daniel Nadler (Harvard University); Shawn Ni (University of Missouri); Amy Nugent (Government of Ontario, Canada); James Pearce (Mowat Centre, University of Toronto, Canada); Paul E. Peterson (Harvard University); Michael Podgursky (University of Missouri); Jason Richwine (Washington, D.C.); Jonathan Rodden (Stanford Uni versity); Daniel Shoag (Harvard University); Richard Simeon (University of Toronto, Canada); Camillo von Müller (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Leuphana University, Germany); Daniel Ziblatt (Harvard University)

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Part II: The Federalism Crisis Worldwide

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In the European Union (EU) today, what are the prospects for the type of decentralized federalism described by Peterson and Nadler in the introduction to this volume? Can a robust multi-tiered political system be created and sustained in which the center and lower-tiered units have constitutionally protected separate spheres of influence and taxing and spending autonomy—and in which subunits have representation in a second chamber, as is standard in federal political systems?1 In short, can a new supranational federalism save Europe in this age of financial crisis?

In the current context of economic turmoil, proposals for such reforms—previously only wished for by utopian Euro-enthusiasts or decried by conspiracy-theorist Euro-skeptics—have now suddenly entered the world of high politics and serious political discussion. When the European Monetary Union (EMU), which was launched in 1999, collided with the economic crisis of 2008–09, the EU's curiously split personality was exposed. On one hand, the EU is a highly successful, massive free trade zone that has an impressive regulatory reach, an emerging common foreign policy, and a common monetary policy. On the other hand, the European project has left fiscal power in the hands of national governments, and the European Union is, fiscally speaking, a political pygmy; its actual budget is minuscule, and it is arguably the largest political unit in history without the power to raise debt for itself. Indeed, it is above all the EU's peculiarly asymmetric sovereignty—marked by the absence of a common fiscal policy to match its remarkable common monetary power—that has, by all accounts, proved devastating to the union's ability to cushion itself against, or even to contain, the financial crisis.2

 

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