Can fiscal rules constrain the size of government? An analysis of the “crown jewel” of tax and expenditure limitations

PAUL ELIASON, BYRON LUTZ

JOURNAL OF PUBLIC ECONOMICS, Volume 166

Abstract: Fiscal rules attempt to alter budget outcomes by constraining policy makers. They have been one of the primary responses to the recent string of fiscal crises around the globe. We ask if these rules succeed in altering fiscal outcomes by examining what is arguably the most stringent set of fiscal rules in the U.S.—Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). As TABOR attempts to constrain both taxes and expenditures, we develop a novel approach of estimating treatment effects for multiple outcomes simultaneously using the synthetic control methodology of Abadie et al. (2010). Although there will always be a degree of uncertainty over external validity when a policy is enacted in only a single state, our results provide no evidence that TABOR affected the level of taxes or spending in Colorado and are precise enough to rule out large negative effects. Thus, no support is found for the contention that fiscal rules alter budget outcomes. Instead, TABOR appears to have been partly evaded by policy makers and voters despite its stringency and partly nothing more than a ratification of the state’s preference over the size of its public sector.

Government extraction and firm size: Local officials’ responses to fiscal distress in China

YU LIU

JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE ECONOMICS

Abstract: This paper studies how government extraction behaviors respond to local fiscal distress in China. We exploit the 2002 Chinese Income Tax Reform which exogenously cut local government revenues from income taxes roughly by half. We find that, when facing fiscal distress, local officials resort to informal taxes, such as fees and levies, instead of formal taxes to supplement revenue. On average, the increase in informal taxes recovered 75 percent of the local government revenue loss due to the reform. The increases are more pronounced along the intensive margin and are primarily driven by more extractions from large firms. We also find that the reform led to reductions in investment and growth rates of small firms and consistently more small firms in the total size distribution.

The Hayek-Friedman hypothesis on the press: is there an association between economic freedom and press freedom?

CHRISTIAN BJØRNSKOV

JOURNAL OF INSTITUTIONAL ECONOMICS

Abstract: The Hayek–Friedman hypothesis states that economic freedom is causally associated with stable democracy. I test a particular element of the hypothesis focusing on press freedom, which is arguably a necessary component of any democratic polity. Combining the Freedom House index of press freedom and the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom yields a large annual panel dataset between 1993 and 2011. Estimates show that improvements in economic freedom are associated with subsequent improvements of press freedom. The overall association is mainly driven by changes in market openness.

The Birth of Pork: Local Appropriations in America’s First Century

SANFORD C. GORDON and HANNAH K. SIMPSON

AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW, Volume 112, Issue 3

Abstract: After describing a newly assembled dataset consisting of almost 9,000 local appropriations made by the U.S. Congress between 1789 and 1882, we test competing accounts of the politics surrounding them before offering a more nuanced, historically contingent view of the emergence of the pork barrel. We demonstrate that for most of this historical period—despite contemporary accusations of crass electoral motives—the pattern of appropriations is largely inconsistent with accounts of distributive politics grounded in a logic of legislative credit-claiming. Instead, support for appropriations in the House mapped cleanly onto the partisan/ideological structure of Congress for most of this period, and only in the 1870s produced the universalistic coalitions commonly associated with pork-barrel spending. We trace this shift to two historical factors: the emergence of a solid Democratic South, and growth in the fraction of appropriations funding recurrent expenditures on extant projects rather than new starts.

Money as meta-rule: Buchanan’s constitutional economics as a foundation for monetary stability

PETER J. BOETTKE, ALEXANDER W. SALTER, DANIEL J. SMITH

PUBLIC CHOICE

Abstract: This paper explores James Buchanan’s contributions to monetary economics and argues these contributions form the foundation of a robust monetary economics paradigm. While often not recognized for his contributions to monetary economics, Buchanan’s scholarship offers important insights for current debates, especially the renewed interest in narrow banking in the wake of the financial crisis. We argue that the post-2007 crisis milieu creates a unique opportunity to recognize, as Buchanan did, the vital role that money plays in the market as the ‘grammar of commerce.’ That recognition makes the need for more fundamental reform of our monetary regimes at the constitutional level more apparent, making Buchanan’s work on monetary constitutions more relevant than ever before. We then discuss how adopting Buchanan’s monetary framework can improve both monetary scholarship and institutions.

Escape from Europe: a calculus of consent model of the origins of liberal institutions in the North American colonies

VLAD TARKO, KYLE O’DONNELL

CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY

Abstract: The migration out of Europe and the establishment of North American colonies presents us with a great puzzle: why did the colonists establish democratic forms of governance? Considering that early democratic colonies appeared even before philosophical works such as those of Locke and Montesquieu were written, it is difficult to make the case that ideology was the driving factor. We show that the calculus of consent model proposed by Buchanan and Tullock (The calculus of consent, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1962) offers a simple but subtle solution this puzzle. Because migrants formed much more homogeneous communities, and because, thanks to the large geographical expanse, the inter-jurisdictional externalities were small, the efficient level of consensus within each colony was much greater than in Europe, and the scope of efficient centralized decision-making was much smaller. Hence, a structure of decentralized democratic communities emerged as the efficient outcome.

A culture of rent seeking

SEUNG GINNY CHOI, VIRGIL HENRY STORR

PUBLIC CHOICE

Abstract: Tullock [J Dev Econ 67(2):455–470, 1967] introduced the concept of rent seeking and highlighted the social costs associated with collecting and lobbying for or against tariffs, investing in human and physical capital to facilitate or protect against theft, and expending resources to establish a monopoly. A large portion of the rent-seeking literature suggests how formal and informal institutions impact for rent-seeking activities. Culture also affects rent seeking. Communities can have a culture of rent seeking (CoRS), i.e., a perception shared by members of a society that having influence over political allocations is an important and potentially preferable source of private benefit than other avenues of pursuing economic gain. In this paper, we explore how culture affects the nature and level of rent seeking that a society pursues, and whether institutional shifts can strengthen or break down a CoRS.