A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt in a Democracy

40 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2000 Last revised: 18 Mar 2008

See all articles by Alberto F. Alesina

Alberto F. Alesina

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Guido Tabellini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics; Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research; Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research (CESifo)

Date Written: July 1987

Abstract

This paper considers an economy in which policymakers with different preferences concerning fiscal policy alternate in office as a result of democratic elections. It is shown that in this situation government debt becomes a strategic variable used by each policymaker to influence the choices of his successors. In particular, if different policymakers disagree about the desired composition of government spending between two public goods, the economy exhibits a deficits bias. Namely, in this economy debt accumulation is higher than it would be with a social planner. According to the results of our model, the equilibrium level of government debt is larger: the larger is the degree of polarization between alternating governments; and the more likely it is that the current government will not be reelected. The paper has empirical implications which may contribute to explain the current fiscal policies in the United States and in several other countries.

Suggested Citation

Alesina, Alberto F. and Tabellini, Guido, A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt in a Democracy (July 1987). NBER Working Paper No. w2308. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=245836

Alberto F. Alesina (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-8388 (Phone)
617-495-7730 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Guido Tabellini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics ( email )

Via Gobbi 5
Milan, 20136
Italy

Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136
Italy

Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research (CESifo)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.CESifo.de

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