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Bevolent Planners, Malevolent Dictators and Democratic Voters

We study the size of government and of GDP, under autocratic and democratic rule, respectively. It turns out that first, both democratic and authoritarian rulers apply the Samuelson (1954) criterion when deciding on productive public goods. Second, the labor supply elasticity and the skewness of the ability distribution determine whether democracy or autocracy will lead to the highest output. Third, when the ability distribution is sufficiently skewed, the democratic majority will behave like a rational autocrat, who chooses the tax rate that maximizes tax revenue. Fourth, population ageing in Western societies may lead to the policy preferred by a rational autocrat.

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Paper provided by Stockholm University, Department of Economics in its series Research Papers in Economics with number 2006:6.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: 16 Jun 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:sunrpe:2006_0006
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, Stockholm, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46 8 16 20 00
Fax: +46 8 16 14 25
Web page: http://www.ne.su.se/Email:


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  1. Francesco Giavazzi & Guido Tabellini, 2004. "Economic and Political Liberalizations," NBER Working Papers 10657, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Robert J. Barro, 1988. "Government Spending in a Simple Model of Endogenous Growth," NBER Working Papers 2588, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Martin C. McGuire & Mancur Olson Jr., 1996. "The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(1), pages 72-96, March.
  4. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2006. "Democratic Capital: The Nexus of Political and Economic Change," NBER Working Papers 12175, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Barro, Robert J, 1996. " Democracy and Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-27, March.
  6. Rigobon, Roberto & Rodrik, Dani, 2004. "Rule of Law, Democracy, Openness and Income: Estimating the Interrelationships," CEPR Discussion Papers 4653, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 1997. "Political Economics and Macroeconomic Policy," NBER Working Papers 6329, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
  9. Tim Besley, 2002. "Political institutions and policy choices: evidence from the United States," IFS Working Papers W02/13, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  10. Sandmo, Agnar, 1998. "Redistribution and the marginal cost of public funds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 365-382, December.
  11. Atkinson, Anthony B & Stern, N H, 1974. "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(1), pages 119-28, January.
  12. Robin Boadway & Michael Keen, 1991. "Public Goods, Self-Selection and Optimal Income Taxation," Working Papers 828, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  13. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-84.
  14. 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.
  15. Christiansen, Vidar, 1981. "Evaluation of Public Projects under Optimal Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(3), pages 447-57, July.
  16. Dixit, Avinash K & Sandmo, Angar, 1977. " Some Simplified Formulae for Optimal Income Taxation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 79(4), pages 417-23.
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