Keeping It In-House: Households Versus Population as Alternative Proxies for Local Government Output

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Journal Article
Australian Journal of Public Administration, 2014, 73 (2), pp. 235 - 246
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© 2014 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. Forced amalgamation has been used as a policy instrument in local government by numerous regulatory authorities across the world. A common presumption underlying municipal mergers holds that larger local councils will experience greater economies of scale. However, the empirical evidence on this question is mixed. Part of the reason for this could lie in the frequent use of population as a proxy for local government output in the empirical literature. This paper examines the use of alternative proxies, particularly the number of households but also the addition of business unit data. We demonstrate that household data represents a more accurate proxy of Australian local government output compared to population size. In addition, the paper employs experimental data, conceptual considerations on population, and household dynamics to establish that the number of households represents the most appropriate measure of local government size for both empirical and public policy purposes.
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