IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Interest groups and the size of government


  • Dennis Mueller
  • Peter Murrell


The results of the previous section, estimates of a three equation model from 23 observations, must obviously be regarded as tentative. The consistent positive relationship between number of interest groups and size of government observed with changing sets of included independent variables, changing samples of nations, and treating the number of interest groups as either exogenous or codetermined, does imply rather unequivocally that interest groups are able to influence public policies in such a manner as to lead to increased government size. Beyond helping to reinforce this conclusion, the results of the previous section should be regarded as first steps in the development of a model of the polity that can explain participation in the political process by interest groups and citizens as well as the size of government. The two most important variables explaining government size other than the number of interest groups proved to be population and the percentage of the population voting. The consistently negative relationship between relative government size and population is noteworthy since several recent papers have assumed that the only government output is redistribution. The negative relationship, implying that an increase in population leads to a less than proportionate increase in the size of government, shows that government expenditure exhibits a most basic public good characteristic. The percentage of the population voting, which probably is closely related to the proportion of voters with incomes below the median, consistently has a positive and significant impact on the size of government. The Meltzer-Richard hypothesis that greater participation by low income voters leads to more redistribution and greater government size is strongly supported. The inclusion of both the interest group and voter participation variables in the government size equation relies on theories related to redistributive activities. The voter participation variable posits a direct responsiveness of government outcomes to voter preferences through the operation of the median voter theorem, and implies rich-to-poor redistribution. The interest group theory posits increasing government size through the addition to the public weal of expenditures on goods with disproportionate benefits for certain interest groups. Such expenditures have distributional implications since in the absence of government provision the interest groups would either go without the goods or have to provide them themselves. While the theory makes no explicit prediction about the direction of this redistributional flow, since the largest single category of interest groups in most countries by far is industry trade associations, one might expect poor-to-rich redistribution as the most likely consequence of interest group influence. Thus, the possibility exists that the influence of the two variables on the distribution of income might be largely offsetting, while their influence on the size of government is cumulative. Disaggregating the effects of these and other public choice variables is a promising avenue for future research. Copyright Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1986

Suggested Citation

  • Dennis Mueller & Peter Murrell, 1986. "Interest groups and the size of government," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 48(2), pages 125-145, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:48:y:1986:i:2:p:125-145
    DOI: 10.1007/BF00179727

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Goodman, Robert P, 1973. "Private Demands for Public Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 280-296, June.
    2. Borcherding, Thomas E & Deacon, Robert T, 1972. "The Demand for the Services of Non-Federal Governments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 891-901, December.
    3. Michele Fratianni & Franco Spinelli, 1982. "The growth of government in Italy: Evidence from 1861 to 1979," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 39(2), pages 221-243, January.
    4. Romer, Thomas & Rosenthal, Howard, 1979. "The elusive median voter," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 143-170, October.
    5. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    6. Peltzman, Sam, 1980. "The Growth of Government," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(2), pages 209-287, October.
    7. Kravis, Irving B & Heston, Alan W & Summers, Robert, 1978. "Real GDP per Capita for More Than One Hundred Countries," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 88(350), pages 215-242, June.
    8. Peter Murrell, 1984. "An examination of the factors affecting the formation of interest groups in OECD countries," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 43(2), pages 151-171, January.
    9. R. Tollison & T. Willett, 1973. "Some simple economics of voting and not voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 59-71, September.
    10. Albert Breton, 1974. "The economic theory of representative government: A reply," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 129-133, December.
    11. Deacon, Robert T, 1978. "A Demand Model for the Local Public Sector," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(2), pages 184-192, May.
    12. Meltzer, Allan H & Richard, Scott F, 1981. "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 914-927, October.
    13. Gary S. Becker, 1983. "A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(3), pages 371-400.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:48:y:1986:i:2:p:125-145. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.