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Contextualizing Tiebout: Mobility, Municipalities and Methodology

PFM, Vol. 6 No. 1, (2006)

There has recently been a resurgence of interest in fiscal mobility among policy makers in the UK and the structure of local taxation is under review. In this context Tiebout’s model of fiscal mobility continues to attract interest. The key result of Tiebout\\\'s seminal paper on local public goods is well-known, but the extent to which differences in the tax-service bundle available in different localities influences residential mobility and location in practice continues to be debated. This paper revisits the issue of fiscal mobility to examine two issues. First, it considers the idea of fiscal mobility in the light of the residential mobility literature. Second, it discusses how well the idea travels and, in particular, examines the way in which the institutions and processes of local government shape the opportunities for fiscal mobility. The paper suggests that the relevance of the Tiebout model to the British, or the more generally a non-US, context has yet to be demonstrated. We also review a number of epistemological and methodological issues which, while acknowledged in the literature, have not been explored quite as extensively as they might have been. Finally, we suggest that the trajectory of the Tiebout debate raises some fundamental issues related to the philosophy of social science that warrant further investigation. We propose that approaching the debate from the perspective of a Lakatosian scientific research programme may be one potentially fruitful line of enquiry.

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