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The Flypaper Effect


  • Robert P. Inman


The flypaper effect results when a dollar of exogenous grants-in-aid leads to significantly greater public spending than an equivalent dollar of citizen income: Money sticks where it hits. Viewing governments as agents for a representative citizen voter, this empirical result is an anomaly. Four alternative explanations have been offered. First, it's a data problem; matching grants have been mis-classified as exogenous aid. Second, it's an econometric problem; exogenous aid is correlated with omitted variables leading to a downward bias in estimates of income's effects and an upward bias in estimates of aid's effects. Third, it's a specification problem: the representative citizen either fails to observe lump-sum aid, or sees aid but mis-perceives its impact as an average price effect, or finally, sees and understands aid's budgetary effects but allocates "public" and "private" monies through separate "mental accounts." The empirical evidence suggests none of these explanations is sufficient. A fourth explanation seems most promising: It's politics. Rather than an anomaly, the flypaper effect is best seen as an outcome of political institutions and the associated incentives of elected officials.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert P. Inman, 2008. "The Flypaper Effect," NBER Working Papers 14579, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14579
    Note: PE POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gordon, Nora, 2004. "Do federal grants boost school spending? Evidence from Title I," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1771-1792, August.
    2. Reinikka, Ritva & Svensson, Jakob, 2004. "The power of information : evidence from a newspaper campaign to reduce capture," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3239, The World Bank.
    3. Helen F. Ladd, 1993. "State responses to the TRA86 revenue windfalls: A new test of the flypaper effect," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 82-103.
    4. Singhal, Monica, 2008. "Special interest groups and the allocation of public funds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 548-564, April.
    5. Hamilton, Bruce W., 1983. "The flypaper effect and other anomalies," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 347-361, December.
    6. Wyckoff, Paul Gary, 1991. "The elusive flypaper effect," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 310-328, November.
    7. Fisher, Ronald C., 1982. "Income and grant effects on local expenditure: The flypaper effect and other difficulties," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 324-345, November.
    8. Hamilton, Jonathan H., 1986. "The flypaper effect and the deadweight loss from taxation," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 148-155, March.
    9. Megdal, Sharon Bernstein, 1987. "The Flypaper Effect Revisited: An Econometric Explanation," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(2), pages 347-351, May.
    10. Lankford, R. Hamilton, 1987. "A note on measuring flypaper effects," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 113-115, July.
    11. Turnbull, Geoffrey K., 1998. "The Overspending and Flypaper Effects of Fiscal Illusion: Theory and Empirical Evidence," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 1-26, July.
    12. Knight, Brian, 2004. "Parochial interests and the centralized provision of local public goods: evidence from congressional voting on transportation projects," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(3-4), pages 845-866, March.
    13. Baker, Michael & Payne, A. Abigail & Smart, Michael, 1999. "An empirical study of matching grants: the 'cap on CAP'," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 269-288, May.
    14. Romer, Thomas & Rosenthal, Howard & Munley, Vincent G., 1992. "Economic incentives and political institutions: Spending and voting in school budget referenda," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 1-33, October.
    15. Brian Knight, 2002. "Endogenous Federal Grants and Crowd-out of State Government Spending: Theory and Evidence from the Federal Highway Aid Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 71-92, March.
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    JEL classification:

    • H72 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Budget and Expenditures
    • H77 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Intergovernmental Relations; Federalism
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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