Multiparty Government, Fiscal Institutions, and Public Spending
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the size of the public sector has been a central, and often controversial, item on the political agenda, as governments from Europe to the United States have embarked on new campaigns to reduce public spending. Previous research on the political factors underlying public spending has naturally focused on the characteristics of the governments that make budgetary decisions. Most recently, scholars have argued, and shown empirically, that spending tends to be larger when cabinets are composed of multiple political parties, and larger still when those coalitions include more members. The key theoretical insight is that spending constitutes a ``common pool resource" problem, which is more difficult to solve for multiparty governments than for single-party administrations because doing so requires the cooperation of actors who are electorally accountable to separate constituencies. In this study, drawing on recent research on the impact of institutions on coalition policymaking, we challenge the prevailing wisdom in this area. Specifically, we argue that rules that reduce the influence of individual government parties in budget formulation, and increase their incentives to oppose the spending demands of their partners, significantly mitigate the common pool resource problem and thus reduce the expansionary effect of coalition governance on spending. Our empirical analysis of public spending in fifteen European democracies over a thirty-five year period supports our argument. Our findings demonstrate that in certain institutional environments, multiparty governments will spend no more than their single-party counterparts. Our conclusions also offer hope that appropriate institutional reforms may be part of a political solution to the financial woes currently confronting multiparty governments across Europe.
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