Imperfect Union: Representation and Taxation in Multilevel Governments / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $24.22
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 21%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (9) from $24.22   
  • New (6) from $26.23   
  • Used (3) from $24.22   


This book offers the first political theory of special purpose jurisdictions, including 35,000 special districts and 13,500 school districts, which constitute the most common form of local government in the United States today. Collectively, special purpose governments have more civilian employees than the federal government and spend more than all city governments combined. The proliferation of special purpose jurisdictions has fundamentally altered the nature of representation and taxation in local government. Citizens today are commonly represented by dozens - in some cases hundreds - of local officials in multiple layers of government. As a result, political participation in local elections is low and special interest groups associated with each function exert disproportionate influence. With multiple special-interest governments tapping the same tax base, the local tax base takes on the character of a common-pool resource, leading to familiar problems of overexploitation. Strong political parties can often mitigate the common-pool problem by informally coordinating the policies of multiple overlapping governments.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In Imperfect Union, Christopher R. Berry forcefully and adeptly argues that the Tiebout model of efficiently competing local government no longer comports with the structure of local political institutions. He demonstrates how the vertical overlap of local governments creates a common pool resource problem wherein governments vie for pieces of the tax base. Berry's work raises important questions about whether voters can navigate and control the complex jumble of special-purpose governments that affect almost every aspect of their lives. This book should make political scientists and economists reconsider the assumptions that have served as the basis for much of the research on local government finance for nearly half a century and should be required reading in any course on local government, fiscal policy, and modern democracy."
- Mathew D. McCubbins, University of California, San Diego

"The United States has literally thousands of single-purpose governments, often layered on top of one another and sharing a common tax base. And many scholars believe that the proliferation of these entities is good for democracy. But Chris Berry, in the first detailed study of this layering phenomenon, shows that quite the opposite is true - that citizens don't participate, that interest groups prevail, that spending is too high, that outcomes are unrepresentative. This is a seminal work, rooted in theory and filled with interesting data, that advances our understanding of government and democracy."
- Terry Moe, Stanford University

"As an economic downturn knocks local budgets out of kilter, the age-old questions asked by Christopher Berry are especially timely. Are local governments doing their job efficiently? If not, why not? What can be done to make the system work better? Combining powerful theory with sophisticated analyses of piles of information, Berry forgoes the descriptive and anecdotal to answer such questions definitively. Berry's disciplined, path-breaking work reaches theoretical heights comparable to the ones achieved by his great University of Chicago predecessors, Robert Parks, Louis Wirth, Edward Banfield, and James Q. Wilson."
- Paul Peterson, Harvard University

"Well written, persuasively argued, and nicely packaged, Chris Berry's Imperfect Union invigorates the study of local institutions. By embedding the political structure of cities, counties, and special districts in a familiar political economy framework, Berry demonstrates how local institutions are special instances of institutions more generally. And doing so allows him to clarify the fiscal interrelationships among multiple layers of government in a theoretically compelling manner. This is a terrific accomplishment."
- Kenneth A. Shepsle, Harvard University

"With this important and timely book, Berry fills a large hole in the literature on the political economy of local government in the United States, which for too long has ignored the rapid expansion of specialized, overlapping jurisdictions with concurrent tax powers. The book assembles an impressive array of data to document the causes and consequences of this trend, and more importantly, it makes a strong case that should attract attention beyond academia: special districts are bad for taxpayers and bad for democracy."
- Jonathan Rodden, Stanford University

"Imperfect Union draws our attention to an understudied but deeply important aspect of American federalism. Berry demonstrates that, absent strong parties or other mechanisms of control, the overlapping nature of special-purpose governments can lead to severe overspending and inefficiency. Berry's first-rate scholarship makes this accessible work essential reading for scholars of federalism, urban governance, public finance, and party politics."
- Craig Volden, The Ohio State University

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Christopher R. Berry is an assistant professor in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Previously, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University in the Department of Government. Professor Berry received his B.A. from Vassar College, Master of Regional Planning (M.R.P.) from Cornell University, Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and post-doctoral training at Harvard University. He was also a Charles E. Merriam Fellow at the University of Chicago. Professor Berry is active in community development and was formerly a director in the MetroEdge division of ShoreBank, America's oldest and largest community development financial institution. He has published in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Journal of Law and Economics, and the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: into the fiscal common fund; 2. What's special about special-purpose governments?; 3. A political theory of special-purpose government; 4. Piling on: the problem of concurrent taxation; 5. Specializing and quality; 6. Governing the fiscal commons; 7. Conclusion.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)