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Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets

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  • Thomas J. Sargent
  • Marco Bassetto

Abstract

We analyze the democratic politics of a rule that separates capital and ordinary account budgets and allows the government to issue debt only to finance capital items. Many national governments followed this rule in the 18th and 19th centuries and most US states do so today. Despite its simplicity, this 1800s financing rule provides excellent incentives for majorities to choose an efficient mix of public goods in an economy with a growing population of overlapping generations of long-lived but mortal agents. In a special limiting case of our model where the demographics make Ricardian equivalence prevail, the 1800s rule does nothing to promote efficiency. But when the demographics imply even a moderate departure from Ricardian equivalence, imposing the rule substantially improves the efficiency of democratically chosen allocations. We calibrate some examples to U.S. demographic data and use our findings to offer a tentative explanation for why the 1800s rule was abandoned by the Federal government but not by state governments in the twentieth century

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas J. Sargent & Marco Bassetto, 2004. "Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets," 2004 Meeting Papers 3, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:3
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    Cited by:

    1. Marco Battaglini & Stephen Coate, 2008. "A Dynamic Theory of Public Spending, Taxation, and Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 201-236, March.
    2. Gonzalez-Eiras, Martín & Niepelt, Dirk, 2012. "Ageing, government budgets, retirement, and growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 97-115.
    3. Marco Bassetto & Leslie McGranahan, 2009. "On the relationship between mobility, population growth, and capital spending in the United States," Working Paper Series WP-09-25, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    4. Paul Klein & Per Krusell & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2004. "Time-Consistent Public Expenditures," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000652, UCLA Department of Economics.
    5. Marco Bassetto, 2008. "Public investment and budget rules for state vs. local governments," Working Paper Series WP-08-21, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    6. Natvik, Gisle J., 2013. "The political economy of fiscal deficits and government production," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 81-94.
    7. Philipp Harms & Joachim Lutz, 2014. "Foreign vs. domestic public debt and the composition of government expenditure: A political-economy approach," Working Papers 1415, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, revised 20 Nov 2014.
    8. Veronica Grembi & Tommaso Nannicini & Ugo Troiano, 2011. "Policy Responses to Fiscal Restraints: A Difference-in-Discontinuities Design," Working Papers 397, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    9. Lindbeck, Assar & Niepelt, Dirk, 2004. "Improving the SGP: Taxes and Delegation Rather than Fines," Seminar Papers 733, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
    10. Jon Fiva & Gisle Natvik, 2013. "Do re-election probabilities influence public investment?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 305-331, October.
    11. Maskin, Eric & Tirole, Jean, 2008. "Public-private partnerships and government spending limits," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 412-420, March.
    12. Marco Bassetto, 2009. "The Research Agenda: Marco Bassetto on the Quantitative Evaluation of Fiscal Policy Rules," EconomicDynamics Newsletter, Review of Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(2), April.
    13. Beetsma, Roel & van der Ploeg, Frederick, 2007. "The Political Economy of Public Investment," CEPR Discussion Papers 6090, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    14. Davina F. Jacobs, 2008. "A Review of Capital Budgeting Practices," IMF Working Papers 08/160, International Monetary Fund.
    15. Marco Bassetto, 2006. "Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1167-1210.
    16. Roel M.W.J. Beetsma & Frederick van der Ploeg, 2007. "Partisan Public Investment and Debt: The Case for Fiscal Restrictions," Economics Working Papers ECO2007/37, European University Institute.
    17. Marco Bassetto & Vadym Lepetyuk, 2007. "Government investment and the European stability and growth pact," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 33-43.
    18. Bom, Pedro R.D. & Ligthart, Jenny E., 2014. "Public infrastructure investment, output dynamics, and balanced budget fiscal rules," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 334-354.
    19. Martín Gonzales-Eiras & Dirk Niepelt, 2007. "Population Ageing, Government Budgets, and Productivity Growth in Politico-Economic Equilibrium," Working Papers 07.05, Swiss National Bank, Study Center Gerzensee.
    20. repec:eee:macchp:v2-2599 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Assar Lindbeck & Dirk Niepelt, 2006. "The Stability Pact - Rationales, Problems, Alternatives," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(4), pages 579-600, November.
    22. Marco Battaglini, 2009. "On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," 2009 Meeting Papers 131, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    23. Deng, Zhongqi & Song, Shunfeng & Chen, Yongjun, 2016. "Private participation in infrastructure project and its impact on the project cost," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 63-76.
    24. Alberto Alesina & Andrea Passalacqua, 2015. "The Political Economy of Government Debt," NBER Working Papers 21821, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Capital expenses; ordinary expenses; budget rules; state budgets;

    JEL classification:

    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods

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