We propose a theory of tax centralization in politico-economic equilibrium. Taxation has dynamic general equilibrium implications which are internalized at the federal, but not at the regional level. The political support for taxation therefore differs across levels of government. Complementarities on the spending side decouple the equilibrium composition of spending and taxation and create a role for inter governmental grants. The model provides an explanation for the centralization of revenue, introduction of grants, and expansion of federal income taxation in the U.S. around the time of the New Deal. Quantitatively, it accounts for approximately 30% of the federal revenue share’s doubling in the 1930s, and for the long-term increase in federal grants.
University of Copenhagen, Department of Economics Discussion Paper 17-18, July 2017, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.
We propose a theory of tax centralization and intergovernmental grants in politico-economic equilibrium. The cost of taxation differs across levels of government because voters internalize general equilibrium effects at the central but not at the local level. The equilibrium degree of tax centralization is determinate even if expenditure-related motives for centralization considered in the fiscal federalism literature are absent. If central and local spending are complements, intergovernmental grants are determinate as well. Our theory helps to explain the centralization of revenue, introduction of grants, and expansion of federal income taxation in the U.S. around the time of the New Deal. Quantitatively, the model can account for the postwar trend in federal grants, and a third of the dramatic increase in the size of the federal government in the 1930s.
VoxEU, October 11, 2016, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. HTML.
- The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation around the time of the Great Depression.
- Perceived cost differences of revenue collection across levels of government, due to general equilibrium effects, can partly explain the rise of tax centralization and intergovernmental grants.
- We develop a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics. (See the working paper.)
We propose a theory of tax centralization and inter governmental grants in politico-economic equilibrium. The cost of taxation differs across levels of government because voters internalize general equilibrium effects at the central but not at the local level. This renders the degree of tax centralization and the tax burden determinate even if none of the traditional, expenditure-related motives for centralization considered in the fiscal federalism literature is present. If central and local spending are complements and the trade-off between the cost of taxation and the benefit of spending is perceived differently across levels of government, inter governmental grants become relevant. Calibrated to U.S. data, our model helps to explain the introduction of federal grants at the time of the New Deal, and their increase up to the turn of the twenty-first century. Grants are predicted to increase to approximately 5.5% of GDP by 2060.
In the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok question whether NSF funds are allocated efficiently. They write:
First, a key question is not whether NSF funding is justified relative to laissez-faire, but rather, what is the marginal value of NSF funding given already existing government and nongovernment support for economic research? Second, we consider whether NSF funding might more productively be shifted in various directions that remain within the legal and traditional purview of the NSF. Such alternative focuses might include data availability, prizes rather than grants, broader dissemination of economic insights, and more. …
Public goods theory tells us that the National Science Foundation should support activities that are especially hard to support through traditional university, philanthropic, and private-sector sources. This insight suggests a simple test: to the extent that the NSF allocates funds to genuine public goods as opposed to subsidies on the margin, we ought to see a large difference in the kinds of projects the NSF supports compared to what the “market” sector supports. But what stands out from lists of prominent NSF grants … is how similar they look to lists of “good” research produced by today’s status quo.