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A Political Economy Theory of the Soft Budget Constraint

Author

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  • James A. Robinson

    (Department of Government, Harvard University)

  • Ragnar Torvik

    (Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Abstract

Why do soft budget constraints exist and persist? In this paper we argue that the prevalence of soft budget constraints can be best explained by the political desirability of softness. We develop a political economy model where politicians cannot commit to policies that are not ex post optimal. We show that because of the dynamic commitment problem inherent in the soft budget constraint, politicians can in essence commit to make transfers to entrepreneurs which otherwise they would not be able to do. This encourages such entrepreneurs to vote for them. Though the soft budget constraint may induce economic inefficiency, it may be politically rational because it influences the outcomes of elections. In consequence, even when information is complete, politicians may fund bad projects which they anticipate they will have to bail out in the future.

Suggested Citation

  • James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2005. "A Political Economy Theory of the Soft Budget Constraint," Working Paper Series 5605, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
  • Handle: RePEc:nst:samfok:5605
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Political Economy; Investment; Development;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General
    • H50 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - General
    • O20 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - General

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