Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 273-289

First online:

Why Some Cities Provide More Public Goods than Others: A Subnational Comparison of the Provision of Public Goods in German Cities in 1912

  • Daniel ZiblattAffiliated withCenter for European Studies, Harvard University Email author 

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What determines a government’s level of public goods provision? Most scholarship tends to focus on the “demand side” of public goods provision, highlighting how varying patterns of social preferences shape the provision of public goods. In an analysis of municipal hospitals and infant health clinics in Germany’s 84 largest cities in 1912, this article uses an original dataset to test a variety of hypotheses to introduce an alternative logic centered around the institutional capability of local governments. The findings suggest a supply-side theory of public goods provision in which the fiscal resources of cities and the professionalism of local government officials are important determinants of the level of public goods. The implications of these findings are two-fold: first, in federal political systems, highly capable local governments—with resources, expertise and professionalism—might represent a “decentralized” or “bottom-up” path for achieving higher overall levels of state infrastructural power in a political system. Second, public health threats might serve as a crucial trigger for the development of local capacity and hence state infrastructural power more broadly.


Local government Public goods Germany