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Rotten Parents and Disciplined Children: A Politico-Economic Theory of Public Expenditure and Debt


Song, Zheng; Storesletten, Kjetil; Zilibotti, Fabrizio (2007). Rotten Parents and Disciplined Children: A Politico-Economic Theory of Public Expenditure and Debt. Working paper series / Institute for Empirical Research in Economics No. 325, University of Zurich.

Abstract

This paper proposes a dynamic politico-economic theory of debt, government finance and expenditure. Agents have preferences over a private and a government-provided publicngood, financed through labor taxation. Subsequent generations of voters choose taxation, government expenditure and debt accumulation through repeated elections. Debt introducesna conflict of interest between young and old voters: the young want more fiscal discipline.nWe characterize the Markov Perfect Equilibrium of the dynamic voting game. If taxes do not distort labor supply, the economy progressively depletes its resources throughndebt accumulation, leaving future generations “enslaved”. However, if tax distortions arensufficiently large, the economy converges to a stationary debt level which is bounded awaynfrom the endogenous debt limit. The current fiscal policy is disciplined by the concern ofnyoung voters for the ability of future government to provide public goods. The steady-statenand dynamics of debt depend on the voters’ taste for public consumption. The stronger the preference for public consumption, the less debt is accumulates. We extend the analysis to redistributive policies and political shocks. The theory predicts government debt to be mean reverting and debt growth to be larger under right-wing than under left-wingngovernments. Data from the US and from a panel of 21 OECD countries confirm thesentheoretical predictions.

Abstract

This paper proposes a dynamic politico-economic theory of debt, government finance and expenditure. Agents have preferences over a private and a government-provided publicngood, financed through labor taxation. Subsequent generations of voters choose taxation, government expenditure and debt accumulation through repeated elections. Debt introducesna conflict of interest between young and old voters: the young want more fiscal discipline.nWe characterize the Markov Perfect Equilibrium of the dynamic voting game. If taxes do not distort labor supply, the economy progressively depletes its resources throughndebt accumulation, leaving future generations “enslaved”. However, if tax distortions arensufficiently large, the economy converges to a stationary debt level which is bounded awaynfrom the endogenous debt limit. The current fiscal policy is disciplined by the concern ofnyoung voters for the ability of future government to provide public goods. The steady-statenand dynamics of debt depend on the voters’ taste for public consumption. The stronger the preference for public consumption, the less debt is accumulates. We extend the analysis to redistributive policies and political shocks. The theory predicts government debt to be mean reverting and debt growth to be larger under right-wing than under left-wingngovernments. Data from the US and from a panel of 21 OECD countries confirm thesentheoretical predictions.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Institute for Empirical Research in Economics (former)
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:June 2007
Deposited On:29 Nov 2011 22:47
Last Modified:12 Aug 2017 13:03
Series Name:Working paper series / Institute for Empirical Research in Economics
ISSN:1424-0459
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/wp.html

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