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The standard theory of optimal jurisdictional size hinges on the existence of economies of scale in the provision of local public goods and services. However, despite its relevance for forced local amalgamation programs and related policies, the empirical evidence on the existence of such economies of scale remains elusive. The main goal of this paper is to produce an updated and comprehensive quantitative review of the existence of economies of scale in the provision of local public goods using a meta-analysis approach to systematize the wide range of empirical approaches and modeling frameworks found in the previous literature. Our analysis confirms the presence of moderately increasing to constant returns to scale in the provision of local services across traditional local service sectors such as education, water and sanitation, and garbage collection. We identify best practices for future empirical research in this area, which should rely on physical output as the metric of activity, production cost data as the measure of input expense, and a translog specification function for the modeling of cost functions. Finally, we find evidence that the determinants of output cost elasticity include bidirectional publication bias and population density but do not include the presence or absence of modern “lean” production technologies or the (perceived) capital intensity of the sector, contrary to conventional wisdom. These findings have significant policy implications for countries considering jurisdictional consolidation programs.


International Center for Public Policy Working Paper 21-16

Copyright 2021, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies

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