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Testing the Positive Theory of Government Finance

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  • David S. Bizer
  • Steven N. Durlauf

Abstract

Researchers characterizing optimal tax policies for dynamic economies have reasoned that optimally chosen tax rates should approximately follow a random walk. We conduct a frequency-domain examination of the properties of the tax rate series and conclude that while there is a substantial smoothing role for debt, one rejects the hypothesis that the first difference in the series is white noise. This conclusion follows both from an analysis of the entire spectral distribution function of tax changes as well as from the behavior of individual frequencies. The source of the rejection is pronounced activity of tax changes at an eight year cycle which is suggestive of an electoral component to tax changes. Regression analysis confirms the finding that there is a cyclical component to tax changes corresponding to changes in political party administration. The results suggest that the positive theory of government finance needs to be refined to incorporate features of political equilibrium.

Suggested Citation

  • David S. Bizer & Steven N. Durlauf, 1990. "Testing the Positive Theory of Government Finance," NBER Working Papers 3349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3349
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    1. Cochrane, John H, 1988. "How Big Is the Random Walk in GNP?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 893-920, October.
    2. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
    3. Kingston, Geoffrey H., 1984. "Efficient timing of income taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 271-280, July.
    4. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
    5. Cukierman, Alex & Meltzer, Allan H, 1986. "A Positive Theory of Discretionary Policy, the Cost of Democratic Government and the Benefits of a Constitution," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 24(3), pages 367-388, July.
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