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Do Budget Rules Work?

  • James M. Poterba

The design of budget rules and institutions, long a neglected area in public finance and macroeconomics, has recently been thrust to center stage by the debate over a balanced budget amendment and other deficit-reduction measures in the United States. This paper describes the existing evidence on how budget rules affect fiscal policy outcomes. It contrasts the `institutional irrelevance view,' which holds that budget rules can be circumvented by modifying accounting practices and changing the nominal timing or other classification of taxes and expenditures, with the `public choice view' in which fiscal institutions represent important constraints on the behavior of political actors. Several distinct strands of empirical evidence, from the U.S. federal experience with anti-deficit rules, from U.S. state experience with balanced budget rules, and from international comparisons of budget outcomes in nations with different fiscal institutions, suggest that fiscal institutions do matter. These results reject the institutional irrelevance view. The existing evidence is not refined enough, however, to provide detailed advice on how narrowly-defined changes in budget rules might affect policy outcomes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5550.

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Date of creation: Apr 1996
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Publication status: published as in A.Auerbach ed., Fiscal Policy: Lessons From Empirical Research (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997) pp.53-86
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5550
Note: PE
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  1. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1991. "Generational Accounts: A Meaningful Alternative to Deficit Accounting," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 5, pages 55-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  3. Weingast, Barry R & Marshall, William J, 1988. "The Industrial Organization of Congress; or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(1), pages 132-63, February.
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  8. Stein, Ernesto & Hommes, Rudolf & Hausmann, Ricardo & Alesina, Alberto, 1999. "Budget Institutions and Fiscal Performance in Latin America," Scholarly Articles 4553021, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  9. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas, 1988. "The line item veto and public sector budgets : Evidence from the states," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 269-292, August.
  10. Gramlich, Edward M, 1990. "U.S. Federal Budget Deficits and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 75-80, May.
  11. Reischauer, Robert D., 1990. "Taxes and Spending Under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(3), pages 223-32, September.
  12. Burton Abrams & William Dougan, 1986. "The effects of constitutional restraints on governmental spending," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 49(2), pages 101-116, January.
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  14. Adam S. Posen, 1995. "Declarations Are Not Enough: Financial Sector Sources of Central Bank Independence," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1995, Volume 10, pages 253-274 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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