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Prudent Budgetary Policy: Political Economy of Precautionary Taxation

  • Frederick Van der Ploeg

The theory of tax smoothing and determination of public debt with uncertain future national income is extended for prudence. A prudent government deliberately underestimates future national income and the tax base, especially if the variance and persistence of shocks hitting the tax base are large and the tax rate and the unemployment benefit are large. As a precaution the tax rate is set higher and the level of public spending lower. As a result, as income and the tax base turn out to be bigger than budgeted, the minister of finance enjoys windfall revenues and is able to gradually reduce debt and debt service over time. This permits, depending on political preferences, either gradual cuts in the tax rate, gradual increases in government spending or a combination of both. It is easy to allow for government assets as well. Finally, political economy justifications are offered of why it is desirable to appoint a strong and pessimistic minister of finance. In particular, we show that prudence is able to offset the intertemporal spending, tax and debt biases resulting from the common-pool distortions. If the minister of finance and the prime minister are given as many voting rights as the spending ministers combined, the intratemporal common-pool distortions of an excessively large public sector are eliminated as well. A strong and pessimistic minister of finance can thus control the impatient profligacy of squabbling spending ministers. However, if voters care about outcomes on election eve, prudence may be abused for short-run electoral gains. Opportunistic manipulation of election results, however, also dampens the intertemporal common-pool distortions.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 1973.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_1973
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  1. Bharat Trehan & Carl E. Walsh, 1987. "Common trends, the government's budget constraint, and revenue smoothing," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 87-11, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  2. Velasco, Andres, 2000. "Debts and deficits with fragmented fiscal policymaking," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 105-125, April.
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  9. Antoine Bommier, 2001. "Uncertain lifetime and intertemporal choice : risk aversion as a rationale for time discounting," Research Unit Working Papers 0108, Laboratoire d'Economie Appliquee, INRA.
  10. van der Ploeg, Frederick, 1993. "A Closed-Form Solution for a Model of Precautionary Saving," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(2), pages 385-95, April.
  11. James D. Hamilton & Marjorie A. Flavin, 1985. "On the Limitations of Government Borrowing: A Framework for Empirical Testing," NBER Working Papers 1632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Kenneth Rogoff, 1987. "Equilibrium Political Budget Cycles," NBER Working Papers 2428, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. International Monetary Fund, 1996. "Budget Processes and Commitment to Fiscal Discipline," IMF Working Papers 96/78, International Monetary Fund.
  14. Rogoff, Kenneth, 1985. "The Optimal Degree of Commitment to an Intermediate Monetary Target," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(4), pages 1169-89, November.
  15. Henning Bohn, 1998. "The Behavior Of U.S. Public Debt And Deficits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 949-963, August.
  16. Bohn, Henning, 2007. "Are stationarity and cointegration restrictions really necessary for the intertemporal budget constraint?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(7), pages 1837-1847, October.
  17. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
  18. Nordhaus, William D, 1975. "The Political Business Cycle," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(2), pages 169-90, April.
  19. Mark Hallerberg & Jürgen von Hagen, 1999. "Electoral Institutions, Cabinet Negotiations, and Budget Deficits in the European Union," NBER Chapters, in: Fiscal Institutions and Fiscal Performance, pages 209-232 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2002. "Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262661314, June.
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