Subsidiarity, Solidarity and Asymmetry
Edited by Richard M. Bird and Robert D. Ebel
Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, Spain and Switzerland constitute a diverse set of countries with an important characteristic in common: each contains within its boundaries a significant, territorially-based group of people who are, or who consider themselves to be, distinct and different in ethnicity, in language, in religion, and/or in history (ancient or recent) from most of the population. Indeed, contrary to the common view that the most natural nation state is a unified and homogeneous entity, such ‘fragmented’ countries are found worldwide, thus heterogeneity, not homogeneity, is the general rule in most nation states. These countries have another common feature: they have, to some extent, used the tools and strategies of an intergovernmental (decentralized) society to maintain both national cohesion and an effective state. To do so, to greater or lesser degrees, their intergovernmental systems, be they federal or unitary systems, exhibit some degree of asymmetry in the way in which they treat different regions. Some potentially fragmented countries have—often through a prolonged historical process, sometimes including civil war—reached an equilibrium in which their political, fiscal and institutional structure balances the diverse forces and sustains an effective nation. The ‘effectiveness’ of a nation in this context relates not only to how efficiently and equitably public services are provided, but also to how a country’s public finances are structured in order to hold a fragmented nation state together. How asymmetry in intergovernmental and regional fiscal structure can become an important tool...