Autocratic, Democratic, and Optimal Government

Autocratic, Democratic, and Optimal Government

Fiscal Choices and Economic Outcomes

The Locke Institute series

William A. Niskanen

This book presents simple models of the major alternative types of political regimes, estimates of the parameters of these models, and quantitative estimates of the fiscal choices and economic outcomes of these regimes. William Niskanen provides valuable analysis of the effects of the voting rule, the progressivity of the tax structure, and the length of the fiscal horizon in democratic governments and interesting insights of the effects of alternative regimes on policies, such as war and immigration, that affect the number of people subject to the regime.

Chapter 8: Population Issues

William A. Niskanen

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice


All the models of government considered to this point assume that the population subject to the rule of a specific government is constant. But governments also implement measures to change the population subject to their rule – by changing the borders of the regime, by controlling the flow of people across these borders, and by domestic policies that may affect the level of the population. This chapter is a somewhat speculative account about how policies that affect the level of the population are likely to differ among the several major types of regimes. First, it is important to recognize that most regimes may have some incentive to increase the population subject to their rule, because population growth often increases both per capita income and tax revenues in those countries with extensive property rights. Over time and across countries, Adam Smith’s (1776) observation that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market and Julian Simon’s recognition that people are The Ultimate Resource (1996) have proved to be more important insights about economic growth than the fear by Thomas R. Malthus that an increase in population relative to the fixed amount of land would reduce productivity and per capita income. Controlling for other relevant conditions, per capita income and the diversity of goods and services generally increase with population density. Many governments, however, have been slow to recognize this effect, and the policy positions of many interest groups continue to reflect Malthusian anxieties....

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