IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt in a Democracy

  • Alberto Alesina

    (Carnegie-Mellon University)

This paper considers an economy in which policymakers with different preferences concerning fiscal policy alternate in office as a result of democratic elections. It is shown that in this situation government debt becomes a strategic variable used by each policymaker to influence the choices of his successors. In particular, if different policymakers disagree about the desired composition of government spending between two public goods, the economy exhibits a deficits bias. Namely, in this economy debt accumulation is higher than it would be with a social planner. According to the results of our model, the equilibrium level of government debt is larger: the larger is the degree of polarization between alternating governments; and the more likely it is that the current government will not be reelected. The paper has empirical implications which may contribute to explain the current fiscal policies in the United States and in several other countries.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by UCLA Department of Economics in its series UCLA Economics Working Papers with number 435.

in new window

Date of creation: 01 Feb 1987
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cla:uclawp:435
Contact details of provider: Web page:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. 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.
  2. 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 914-27, October.
  3. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1986. "Principles of fiscal and monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 117-134, January.
  4. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  5. Rogers, Carol Ann, 1986. "The effect of distributive goals on the time inconsistency of optimal taxes," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 251-269, March.
  6. Cukierman, Alex & Meltzer, Allan H, 1989. "A Political Theory of Government Debt and Deficits in a Neo-Ricardian Framework," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 713-32, September.
  7. Becker, Gary S., 1985. "Public policies, pressure groups, and dead weight costs," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 329-347, December.
  8. Herschel I. Grossman & John B. Van Huyck, 1985. "Sovereign Debt as a Contingent Claim: Excusable Default, Repudiation, and Reputation," NBER Working Papers 1673, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Brennan,Geoffrey & Buchanan,James M., 2006. "The Power to Tax," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521027922, October.
  10. Turnovsky, Stephen J. & Brock, William A., 1980. "Time consistency and optimal government policies in perfect foresight equilibrium," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 183-212, April.
  11. Karl Brunner, 1978. "Reflections on the Political Economy of Government. The Persistent Growth of Government," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 114(III), pages 649-680, September.
  12. Persson, Torsten & Svensson, Lars E. O., 1984. "Time-consistent fiscal policy and government cash-flow," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 365-374, November.
  13. Lindbeck, Assar, 1985. "Redistribution policy and the expansion of the public sector," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 309-328, December.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cla:uclawp:435. 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: (Tim Kwok)

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.