Economic Freedom and the Size of Government
29 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2015 Last revised: 19 Feb 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2015
This paper explores the relationship between government size and economic freedom, relating these patterns to theories of fiscal politics. In order to address current political controversies, it uses data on pre-1990 OECD members (minus Norway) for central government tax revenues and spending, as well as indicators of economic freedom derived from the Fraser Institute, ICRG, Heritage Foundation, and the World Bank. It finds that it matters a great deal whether we define size as expenditures or taxation. Spending has no relationship with freedom, or a negative one, across this data set. Initial tax revenue levels, however, positively predict subsequent changes in economic freedom. We find similar patterns using different measures of economic freedom and whether we use annual data (1995-2010) or overlapping six-year averages going back to 1970-75. These results challenge the common preconception that taxes and economic freedom are negatively related. In addition, the divergence between tax revenue and spending in this regard is more consistent with a “fiscal contract” model of the state, in which taxation and economic freedom go together, as governments attend to their legitimacy and the health of the private sector in order to increase revenue, but flag in these efforts when they enjoy sources of income other than taxes.
Keywords: economic freedom, economic liberty, government size, spending, taxation, fiscal contract
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