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On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

  • Marco Battaglini

    (Steve Coate, Marina Azzimonti)

This paper uses the political economy model of Battaglini and Coate (2008) to analyze the impact of a balanced budget rule that requires that legislators do not run deficits. It considers both a strict rule which cannot be circumvented and a rule that can be overridden by a super-majority of legislators. A strict rule leads to a gradual but substantial reduction in the level of public debt. In the short run, citizens will be worse off as public spending is reduced and taxes are raised to bring down debt. In the long run, the benefits of a lower debt burden must be weighed against the costs of greater volatility in taxes and less responsive public good provision. To quantify these effects, the model is calibrated to the U.S. economy. While the long run net benefits are positive, they are outweighed by the short run costs of debt reduction. A rule with a super-majority override has no effect on citizen welfare or fiscal policy.

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2009 Meeting Papers with number 131.

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Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:red:sed009:131
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Marina Azzimonti Department of Economics Stonybrook University 10 Nicolls Road Stonybrook NY 11790 USA
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  1. Azzimonti, Marina & de Francisco, Eva & Krusell, Per, 2008. "Production subsidies and redistribution," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 142(1), pages 73-99, September.
  2. Marco Battaglini & Steve Coate, 2006. "A Dynamic Theory of Public Spending, Taxation and Debt," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000001094, UCLA Department of Economics.
  3. Marco Bassetto & Thomas Sargent, 2005. "Politics and Efficiency of Separating Capital and Ordinary Government Budgets," NBER Working Papers 11030, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Barseghyan, Levon & Battaglini, Marco & Coate, Stephen, 2013. "Fiscal policy over the real business cycle: A positive theory," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 148(6), pages 2223-2265.
  5. Corsetti, Giancarlo & Roubini, Nouriel, 1996. "European versus American Perspectives on Balanced-Budget Rules," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 408-13, May.
  6. Albert Marcet & Andrew Scott, 2007. "Debt and Deficit Fluctuations and the Structure of Bond Markets," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 728.08, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  7. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  8. V. V. Chari & Lawrence J. Christiano & Patrick J. Kehoe, 1993. "Optimal fiscal policy in a business cycle model," Staff Report 160, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  9. Timothy Besley & Michael Smart, 2005. "Fiscal restraints and voter welfare," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3769, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  10. William A. Niskanen, 1992. "The Case for a New Fiscal Constitution," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 13-24, Spring.
  11. Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December.
  12. Robert P. Inman, 1996. "Do Balanced Budget Rules Work? U.S. Experience and Possible Lessons for the EMU," NBER Working Papers 5838, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Poterba, James M., 1995. "Balanced Budget Rules and Fiscal Policy: Evidence From the States," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(3), pages 329-36, September.
  14. L. Wade, 1988. "Review," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 58(1), pages 99-100, July.
  15. James M. Poterba, 1996. "Budget Institutions and Fiscal Policy in the U.S. States," NBER Working Papers 5449, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. George J. Hall & Stefan Krieger, 2000. "Tax Smoothing Implications of the Federal Debt Paydown," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(2), pages 253-302.
  17. Shanna Rose, 2006. "Do fiscal rules dampen the political business cycle?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 128(3), pages 407-431, September.
  18. Tamim Bayoumi & Barry Eichengreen, 1995. "Restraining Yourself: The Implications of Fiscal Rules for Economic Stabilization," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 42(1), pages 32-48, March.
  19. Greenwood, Jeremy & Hercowitz, Zvi & Huffman, Gregory W, 1988. "Investment, Capacity Utilization, and the Real Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 402-17, June.
  20. Poterba, James M, 1994. "State Responses to Fiscal Crises: The Effects of Budgetary Institutions and Politics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 799-821, August.
  21. Buchanan, James M., 1995. "Clarifying Confusion About the Balanced Budget Amendment," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 48(3), pages 347-55, September.
  22. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
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