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A Political Economy Theory of the Soft Budget Constraint

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  • James A. Robinson
  • Ragnar Torvik

Abstract

Why do soft budget constraints exist and persist? In this paper we argue that the prevalence of soft budget constraints can be best explained by the political desirability of softness. We develop a political economy model where politicians cannot commit to policies that are not ex post optimal. We show that because of the dynamic commitment problem inherent in the soft budget constraint, politicians can in essence commit to make transfers to entrepreneurs which otherwise they would not be able to do. This encourages such entrepreneurs to vote for them. Though the soft budget constraint may induce economic inefficiency, it may be politically rational because it influences the outcomes of elections. In consequence, even when information is complete, politicians may fund bad projects which they anticipate they will have to bail out in the future.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12133.

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Date of creation: Apr 2006
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Publication status: published as Robinson, James A. & Torvik, Ragnar, 2009. "A political economy theory of the soft budget constraint," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 786-798, October.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12133

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Nelly Exbrayat & Thierry Madiès & Stéphane Riou, 2013. "Abram Bergson," Working Papers 1340, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique (GATE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  2. Leopoldo Fergusson & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik & Juan F. Vargas, 2012. "The Need for Enemies," NBER Working Papers 18313, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Eggleston, Karen, 2008. "Soft budget constraints and the property rights theory of ownership," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(3), pages 425-427, September.
  4. Thushyanthan Baskaran, 2013. "Do bailouts buy votes? Evidence from a panel of Hessian municipalities," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 257-278, August.
  5. Alberto Cavaliere, 2006. "Privatization and Efficiency: from Principals and Agents to Political Economy," Working Papers 2006.99, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
  6. Karolina Kaiser & Emmanuelle Taugourdeau, 2010. "The Timing of Elections in Federations : A Disciplining Device against Soft Budget Constraints ?," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 10036, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne.
  7. Nelly Exbrayat & Thierry Madiès & Stéphane Riou, 2014. "Bailout policy in a globalized economy," Working Papers halshs-00925006, HAL.
  8. Enrique Gilles, 2010. "Political intervention in economic activity," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO 007180, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO.

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