International Tax and Public Finance

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 295–314 | Cite as

Political economy of prudent budgetary policy

  • Frederick van der PloegEmail author
Open Access


The principles of tax smoothing and public debt management with stochastic shocks to future national income are extended for prudence. A prudent government deliberately underestimates future national income and the tax base, especially if the variance and persistence of shocks hitting the tax base are large and the tax rate is high. As a precaution the tax rate is thus set higher and public spending lower to build precautionary buffers. This leads to gradual reductions in debt and debt service over time and thus, depending on political preferences, cuts in taxes or increases in public spending. Prudence offsets the intertemporal spending, tax and debt biases resulting from common-pool distortions. Appointing a strong finance minister with as many voting rights as the spending ministers combined ensures that the intratemporal common-pool distortions of an excessively large public sector are eliminated. A strong and prudent minister of finance can thus offset the impatient profligacy of squabbling spending ministers. However, if voters care about outcomes on election eve, finance ministers are tempted to build excessive precautionary buffers early on to dish out tax cuts and boost spending on election eve. Too much prudence may thus be abused for short-run electoral gains.


Precautionary taxation and saving Common pool Electoral budget cycles 

JEL Classification

H21 H60 


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© The Author(s) 2009

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Oxford, Manor Road BuildingOxfordUK
  2. 2.MlntUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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