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Autocratic, Democratic, and Optimal Government

Fiscal Choices and Economic Outcomes

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.
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Chapter 6: Fiscal Rules for a Democracy

William A. Niskanen


The standard model of a democracy in the previous chapters assumes that the tax system is progressive and that the fiscal choices are made by majority rule. For this chapter this model is modified to evaluate the long-term effects of a proportional tax system and a 60 percent voting rule, for democracies with a short-term fiscal horizon and for those with a long-term horizon. The effects of these modifications are compared with those from the standard model and are presented in Table 6.1. A PROPORTIONAL TAX SYSTEM The effects of a proportional income tax are estimated by setting the parameter e equal to the parameter d. The substitution of a proportional tax for a progressive tax does not change the decisive voter, but it somewhat reduces his or her demand for government spending. For democracies with either a short- or long-term fiscal horizon, this leads to a small reduction in the average tax rate, the level of general government spending, and the level of transfer payments. These fiscal choices lead to a small increase in total output, a moderate increase in average net income,1 and a moderate decline in median net income. Both average net income and median net income, as expected, are higher in a democracy with a longterm fiscal horizon. For those who are concerned about the redistributionist effects of majoritarian democracy, however, the case for a proportional tax appears rather weak, with the increase in average net income somewhat smaller...

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