Public Choice

, Volume 160, Issue 1–2, pp 227–249 | Cite as

Decentralization and access to social services in Colombia

  • Jean-Paul Faguet
  • Fabio Sánchez


Decentralization is meant to improve access to public services, but relatively few studies examine this question empirically. We explore the effects of decentralization on access to health and education in Colombia using an original database covering over 95 % of Colombian municipalities. We show that decentralization improved enrollment rates in public schools and access of the poor to public health services. In both sectors, improving access was driven by the financial contributions of local governments. Small increases in own-shares of spending led to surprisingly large increases in the access of the poor in both sectors. Our theoretical model implies that where local information dominates productive efficiency, elected local governments will provide services better tailored to local needs. Decentralizing such services should increase their use by the public. Together, theory and empirics imply that decentralization made the Colombian state more accountable. It provided local officials with the information and incentives they need to allocate resources in a manner responsive to voters’ needs and improve the impact of public expenditures.


Decentralization Education Health Public investment Colombia Local government 

JEL Classification

H41 H75 H77 01 



This paper was written while Faguet was on research sabbatical at the Center for Latin American Studies, UC Berkeley, to whom he is grateful for warm hospitality and support. The research was financed by the Corporación Andina de Fomento’s Research Papers Program, a STICERD/LSE New Researcher Award, and the British Academy. We are very grateful to Patricia Rincón, Camila Torrente and Victoria Soto for expert research assistance, and to Robin Burgess, Maitreesh Ghatak, Alain de Janvry, Asim Khwaja, Dilip Mookherjee, Daniel Ortega, Pablo Sanguinetti, Daniel Treisman, Hernan Vallejo, three anonymous reviewers, and seminar participants at STICERD and the LACEA 2008 meetings for their thoughtful suggestions. All remaining errors are ours.


  1. Barankay, I., & Lockwood, B. (2007). Decentralization and the productive efficiency of government: evidence from Swiss cantons. Journal of Public Economics, 91, 1197–1218. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Batina, R. G., & Ihori, T. (2005). Public goods: theories and evidence. New York: Springer. Google Scholar
  3. Besley, T., & Coate, S. (2003). Centralized versus decentralized provision of local public goods: a political economy approach. Journal of Public Economics, 87, 2611–2637. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cassette, A., & Paty, S. (2010). Fiscal decentralization and the size of government: a European country empirical analysis. Public Choice, 143, 173–189. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ceballos, M., & Hoyos, D. (2004). Tendencias del comportamiento electoral y descentralización en los municipios de Colombia, 1988–2000. Crisis States Programme Working Paper No. 57. London School of Economics. Google Scholar
  6. Clark, D. (2009). The performance and competitive effects of school autonomy. Journal of Political Economy, 117(4), 745–782. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Devarajan, S., Khemani, S., & Shah, S. (2009). The politics of partial decentralization. In E. Ahmad & G. Brosio (Eds.), Does decentralization enhance service delivery and poverty reduction? Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Google Scholar
  8. Dowding, K., & John, P. (1994). Tiebout: a survey of the empirical literature. Urban Studies, 31(4/5), 767–797. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Escaleras, M., & Register, C. A. (2012). Fiscal decentralization and natural hazard risks. Public Choice, 151(1–2), 165–183. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Faguet, J. P. (2012). Decentralization and popular democracy: governance from below in Bolivia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Google Scholar
  11. Faguet, J. P., & Sánchez, F. (2008). Decentralization’s effects on educational outcomes in Bolivia and Colombia. World Development, 36(7), 1294–1316. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Galiani, S., Gertler, P., & Schargrodsky, E. (2008). School decentralization: helping the good get better, but leaving the poor behind. Journal of Public Economics, 92, 2106–2120. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gonçalves, S. (2013). The effects of participatory budgeting on municipal expenditures and infant mortality in Brazil. World Development. doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2013.01.009.
  14. Ladino O., W. H. (2008). Organización del estado Colombiano y formas organizativas del estado a nivel territorial. Bogotá:Escuela Nacional de Administración Pública. Google Scholar
  15. Manor, J. (1999). The political economy of democratic decentralization. Washington: World Bank. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Oates, W. (1972). Fiscal federalism. New York: Harcourt Brace. Google Scholar
  17. Ostrom, E., & Whitaker, G. P. (1973). Does local community control of police make a difference? Some preliminary findings. American Journal of Political Science, 17, 48–76. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ostrom, E., Schroeder, L., & Wynne, S. (1993). Institutional incentives and sustainable development: infrastructure policies in perspective. Boulder: Westview Press. Google Scholar
  19. Prohl, S., & Schneider, F. (2009). Does decentralization reduce government size? A quantitative study of the decentralization hypothesis. Public Finance Review, 37(6), 639–664. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Republica de Colombia (2001). Ley 715 de 2001. Bogotá: Gobierno Nacional. Google Scholar
  21. Rodden, J. (2003). Reviving leviathan: fiscal federalism and the growth of government. International Organization, 57, 695–729. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sánchez, F., & Diaz, A. (2007). Los efectos sociales del conflicto armado interno. In F. Sánchez (Ed.), Las cuentas de la violencia, Bogotá: Editorial Norma. Google Scholar
  23. Sánchez, F., & Zenteno, J. (2010). Descentralización y desempeño fiscal: el caso de Colombia. In M. del Valle & A. Galindo (Eds.), Descentralización y sostenibilidad fiscal subnacional: los casos de Colombia y Perú. Región Andina: Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. Google Scholar
  24. Tiebout, C. M. (1956). A pure theory of local expenditures. Journal of Political Economy, 64, 416–424. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Treisman, D. (2007). The architecture of government: rethinking political decentralization. New York: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Varian, H. (1994). Sequential contributions to public goods. Journal of Public Economics, 53, 165–186. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. World Bank (2004). World development report 2004: making services work for poor people. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  28. Wu, A. M., & Lin, M. (2012). Determinants of government size: Evidence from China. Public Choice, 151(1–2), 255–270. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International Development and STICERDLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK
  2. 2.School of EconomicsUniversidad de los AndesBogotáColombia

Personalised recommendations