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Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets

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  • Marco Bassetto
  • Thomas Sargent

Abstract

We analyze the democratic politics of a rule that separates capital and ordinary account budgets and allows the government to issue debt to finance capital items only. Many national governments followed this rule in the 18th and 19th centuries and most U.S. states do today. This simple 1800s financing rule sometimes provides excellent incentives for majorities to choose an efficient mix of public goods in an economy with a growing population of overlapping generations of long-lived but mortal agents. In a special limiting case with demographics that make Ricardian equivalence prevail, the 1800s rule does nothing to promote efficiency. But when the demographics imply even a moderate departure from Ricardian equivalence, imposing the rule substantially improves the efficiency of democratically chosen allocations. We calibrate some examples to U.S. demographic data. We speculate why in the twentieth century most national governments abandoned the 1800s rule while U.S. state governments have retained it.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Bassetto & Thomas Sargent, 2005. "Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets," NBER Working Papers 11030, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11030
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    Cited by:

    1. Gonzalez-Eiras, Martín & Niepelt, Dirk, 2012. "Ageing, government budgets, retirement, and growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 97-115.
    2. Paul Klein & Per Krusell & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2004. "Time-Consistent Public Expenditures," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000652, UCLA Department of Economics.
    3. Marco Bassetto, 2008. "Public investment and budget rules for state vs. local governments," Working Paper Series WP-08-21, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    4. Natvik, Gisle J., 2013. "The political economy of fiscal deficits and government production," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 81-94.
    5. Lindbeck, Assar & Niepelt, Dirk, 2004. "Improving the SGP: Taxes and Delegation rather than Fines," Working Paper Series 633, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    6. Maskin, Eric & Tirole, Jean, 2008. "Public-private partnerships and government spending limits," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 412-420, March.
    7. Marco Bassetto, 2009. "The Research Agenda: Marco Bassetto on the Quantitative Evaluation of Fiscal Policy Rules," EconomicDynamics Newsletter, Review of Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(2), April.
    8. Marco Battaglini & Stephen Coate, 2008. "A Dynamic Theory of Public Spending, Taxation, and Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 201-236, March.
    9. Jon Fiva & Gisle Natvik, 2013. "Do re-election probabilities influence public investment?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 305-331, October.
    10. Veronica Grembi & Tommaso Nannicini & Ugo Troiano, 2011. "Policy Responses to Fiscal Restraints: A Difference-in-Discontinuities Design," Working Papers 397, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    11. Marco Bassetto, 2006. "Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1167-1210.
    12. Roel M.W.J. Beetsma & Frederick van der Ploeg, 2007. "Partisan Public Investment and Debt: The Case for Fiscal Restrictions," Economics Working Papers ECO2007/37, European University Institute.
    13. Bom, Pedro R.D. & Ligthart, Jenny E., 2014. "Public infrastructure investment, output dynamics, and balanced budget fiscal rules," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 334-354.
    14. repec:eee:macchp:v2-2599 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Deng, Zhongqi & Song, Shunfeng & Chen, Yongjun, 2016. "Private participation in infrastructure project and its impact on the project cost," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 63-76.
    16. Alberto Alesina & Andrea Passalacqua, 2015. "The Political Economy of Government Debt," NBER Working Papers 21821, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Marco Battaglini, 2009. "On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," 2009 Meeting Papers 131, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    18. Marco Bassetto & Leslie McGranahan, 2009. "On the relationship between mobility, population growth, and capital spending in the United States," Working Paper Series WP-09-25, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    19. Philipp Harms & Joachim Lutz, 2014. "Foreign vs. domestic public debt and the composition of government expenditure: A political-economy approach," Working Papers 1415, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, revised 20 Nov 2014.
    20. Beetsma, Roel & van der Ploeg, Frederick, 2007. "The Political Economy of Public Investment," CEPR Discussion Papers 6090, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    21. Davina F. Jacobs, 2008. "A Review of Capital Budgeting Practices," IMF Working Papers 08/160, International Monetary Fund.
    22. Marco Bassetto & Vadym Lepetyuk, 2007. "Government investment and the European stability and growth pact," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 33-43.
    23. Martín Gonzales-Eiras & Dirk Niepelt, 2007. "Population Ageing, Government Budgets, and Productivity Growth in Politico-Economic Equilibrium," Working Papers 07.05, Swiss National Bank, Study Center Gerzensee.
    24. Assar Lindbeck & Dirk Niepelt, 2006. "The Stability Pact - Rationales, Problems, Alternatives," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(4), pages 579-600, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
    • H6 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt
    • H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations

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