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The Effect of Direct Democratic Institutions on Income Redistribution: Evidence for Switzerland

There is an intensive dispute in political economics about the impact of institutions on income redistribution. While the main focus is on comparison between different forms of representative democracy, the influence of direct democracy on redistribution has attracted much less attention. In this paper, employing both a composite index and measures of single institutions, we find that direct democracy is particularly associated with lower welfare spending. Moreover, we estimate a model which explains the determinants of achieved redistribution measured by Gini coefficients using panel data provided by the Swiss Federal Tax Office from 1981 to 1997. While our results indicate that less public funds are used to redistribute income and actual redistribution is lower, inequality is not reduced to a lesser extent in direct than in representative democracies for a given initial income distribution.

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Paper provided by Stockholm School of Economics in its series SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance with number 689.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: 30 Apr 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:hastef:0689
Note: completely revised version of CESifo working paper No. 1837, published in 2006
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  1. Feld, Lars P, 2000. "Steuerwettbewerb und seine Auswirkungen auf Allokation und Distribution," Beiträge zur Finanzwissenschaft, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, edition 1, volume 10, number urn:isbn:9783161473852.
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  5. Hansen, Lars Peter, 1982. "Large Sample Properties of Generalized Method of Moments Estimators," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 1029-54, July.
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  7. Corneo, Giacomo & Gruner, Hans Peter, 2002. "Individual preferences for political redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 83-107, January.
  8. Roemer, John E., 1998. "Why the poor do not expropriate the rich: an old argument in new garb," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 399-424, December.
  9. Lee, Woojin & Roemer, John E, 1998. " Income Distribution, Redistributive Politics, and Economic Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 3(3), pages 217-40, September.
  10. Harms, Philipp & Zink, Stefan, 2003. "Limits to redistribution in a democracy: a survey," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 651-668, November.
  11. Kirchgassner, Gebhard & Pommerehne, Werner W., 1996. "Tax harmonization and tax competition in the European Union: Lessons from Switzerland," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 351-371, June.
  12. Borge, Lars-Erik & Rattso, J.Jorn, 2004. "Income distribution and tax structure: Empirical test of the Meltzer-Richard hypothesis," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 805-826, August.
  13. Lars P. Feld & Gebhard Kirchgassner, 1999. "Public Debt and Budgetary Procedures: Top Down or Bottom Up? Some Evidence from Swiss Municipalities," NBER Chapters, in: Fiscal Institutions and Fiscal Performance, pages 151-180 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Michela Redoano & Kimberley Ann Scharf, 2001. "The Political Economy of Policy Centralization: Direct Versus Representative Democracy," CESifo Working Paper Series 602, CESifo Group Munich.
  15. Weingast, Barry R & Shepsle, Kenneth A & Johnsen, Christopher, 1981. "The Political Economy of Benefits and Costs: A Neoclassical Approach to Distributive Politics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 642-64, August.
  16. Lars P Feld & Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2001. "The political economy of direct legislation: direct democracy and local decision-making," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 16(33), pages 329-367, October.
  17. Stigler, George J, 1970. "Director's Law of Public Income Redistribution," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-10, April.
  18. Matsusaka, John G, 2000. "Fiscal Effects of the Voter Initiative in the First Half of the Twentieth Century," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(2), pages 619-50, October.
  19. Sass, Tim R, 1991. " The Choice of Municipal Government Structure and Public Expenditures," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 71(1-2), pages 71-87, August.
  20. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1997. "An Economic Model of Representative Democracy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 85-114, February.
  21. Pommerehne, Werner W., 1978. "Institutional approaches to public expenditure : Empirical evidence from Swiss municipalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 255-280, April.
  22. Matsusaka, John G, 1995. "Fiscal Effects of the Voter Initiative: Evidence from the Last 30 Years," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 587-623, June.
  23. Feld, Lars P & Kirchgassner, Gebhard, 2001. " Does Direct Democracy Reduce Public Debt? Evidence from Swiss Municipalities," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 109(3-4), pages 347-70, December.
  24. Matsusaka, John G & McCarty, Nolan M, 2001. "Political Resource Allocation: Benefits and Costs of Voter Initiatives," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 413-48, October.
  25. 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.
  26. Romer, Thomas & Rosenthal, Howard, 1979. "Bureaucrats versus Voters: On the Political Economy of Resource Allocation by Direct Democracy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(4), pages 563-87, November.
  27. Monika Bütler, 2002. "The Political Feasibility of Increasing the Retirement Age: Lessons from a Ballot on the Female Retirement Age," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 9(4), pages 349-365, August.
  28. Hansen, Lars Peter & Singleton, Kenneth J, 1982. "Generalized Instrumental Variables Estimation of Nonlinear Rational Expectations Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1269-86, September.
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