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The Political Economy of Budget Deficits

  • Alberto Alesina
  • Roberto Perotti

This paper provides a critical survey of the literature on politico-institutional determinants of the government budget. We organize our discussion around two questions: Why did certain OECD countries, but not others, accumulate large public debts? Why did these fiscal imbalances appear in the last twenty years rather than before? We begin by discussing the 'tax smoothing' model and conclude that this approach alone cannot provide complete answers to these questions. We will then proceed to a discussion of political economy models, which we organize in six groups: i) Models based upon opportunistic policy makers and naive voters with 'fiscal illusion'; ii) Models of intergenerational redistributions; iii) Models of debt as a strategic variable, linking the current government with the next one; iv) Models of coalition governments; v) Models of geographically dispersed interests; vi) Models emphasizing the effects of budgetary institutions.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4637.

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Date of creation: Feb 1994
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Publication status: published as With Jose Tavares, published as "The Political Economy of Fiscal Adjustments", Brookings Paper, Vol. 28, no. 1 (1998): 197-248.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4637
Note: ME PE
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  1. Alesina, A. & Drazen, A., 1991. "Why Are Stabilizations Delayed?," Papers 6-91, Tel Aviv - the Sackler Institute of Economic Studies.
  2. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1986. "Principles of fiscal and monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 117-134, January.
  3. Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria & Spolaore, Enrico, 1994. "How cynical can an incumbent be? Strategic policy in a model of government spending," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 121-140, September.
  4. Peltzman, Sam, 1992. "Voters as Fiscal Conservatives," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 327-61, May.
  5. Drazen, A. & Grilli, V., 1991. "The Benefits of Crisis for Economic Reforms," Papers 27-91, Tel Aviv.
  6. Nouriel Roubini & Jeffrey Sachs, 1989. "Government Spending and Budget Deficits in the Industrial Economies," NBER Working Papers 2919, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Alesina, Alberto & Rosenthal, Howard, 1996. "A Theory of Divided Government," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(6), pages 1311-41, November.
  8. G Milesi-Feretti, 1993. "The Disadvantage of Tying Their Hands: On the Political Economy of Policy Commitments," CEP Discussion Papers dp0125, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  9. Bliss, Christopher & Nalebuff, Barry, 1984. "Dragon-slaying and ballroom dancing: The private supply of a public good," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1-2), pages 1-12, November.
  10. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  11. Alberto Alesina & Guido Tabellini, 1988. "External Debt, Capital Flight and Political Risk," UCLA Economics Working Papers 538, UCLA Department of Economics.
  12. Alberto Alesina & Sule Ozler & Nouriel Roubini & Phillip Swagel, 1992. "Political Instability and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 4173, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Alesina, Alberto & Cohen, Gerald D. & Roubini, Nouriel, 1993. "Electoral business cycle in industrial democracies," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 1-23, March.
  14. Alberto Alesina & Gerald D. Cohen & Nouriel Roubini, 1992. "Macroeconomic Policy And Elections In Oecd Democracies," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(1), pages 1-30, 03.
  15. Nordhaus, William D, 1975. "The Political Business Cycle," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(2), pages 169-90, April.
  16. 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.
  17. Cukierman, Alex & Meltzer, Allan H, 1989. "A Political Theory of Government Debt and Deficits in a Neo-Ricardian Framework," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 713-32, September.
  18. Cukierman, Alex & Webb, Steven B & Neyapti, Bilin, 1992. "Measuring the Independence of Central Banks and Its Effect on Policy Outcomes," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 6(3), pages 353-98, September.
  19. Alesina, Alberto & Carliner, Geoffrey (ed.), 1991. "Politics and Economics in the Eighties," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226012810.
  20. Nouriel Roubini & Jeffrey Sachs, 1988. "Political and Economic Determinants of Budget Deficits in the IndustrialDemocracies," NBER Working Papers 2682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Perotti, Roberto, 1994. "Income distribution and investment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(3-4), pages 827-835, April.
  22. Alesina, Alberto & Summers, Lawrence H, 1993. "Central Bank Independence and Macroeconomic Performance: Some Comparative Evidence," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 151-62, May.
  23. Alberto Alesina & Gerald D. Cohen & Nouriel Roubini, 1991. "Macroeconomic Policy and Elections in OECD Democracies," NBER Working Papers 3830, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Fiorina, Morris P. & Noll, Roger G., 1978. "Voters, bureaucrats and legislators : A rational choice perspective on the growth of bureaucracy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 239-254, April.
  25. Roubini, Nouriel & Sachs, Jeffrey D., 1989. "Political and economic determinants of budget deficits in the industrial democracies," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 903-933, May.
  26. Mathew D. McCubbins, 1991. "Party Governance and U.S. Budget Deficits: Divided Government and Fiscal Stalemate," NBER Chapters, in: Politics and Economics in the Eighties, pages 83-122 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. Cohen, Gerald & Alesina, Alberto & Roubini, Nouriel, 1992. "Macroeconomic Policy and Elections in OECD Democracies," Scholarly Articles 4553023, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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