Growing public, vol. 1 The story by Lindert P.H.

By Lindert P.H.

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Again, the concentration of voice was the enemy of education. The great advance of social spending since 1880 is explained partly by the same political-voice motif, partly by population aging, and partly by income growth. Roman Catholicism was a negative influence on taxes and transfers before, but not after, World War II. Postwar welfare states developed more fully in countries where the middle and bottom ranks traded places more and were ethnically homogenous. The same forces that explain the growth of social spending until the 1990s carry implications for the future of social spending in all regions – in the affluent OECD countries, in the transition countries, and in Third World countries.

The average correlation is essentially zero. If we pooled all the decades of international experience, instead of just averaging them, we could find that social transfers had positive correlations with both the level and the growth of GDP per person. 18 So far, any negative feedback from social programs to productivity levels, or productivity growth, remains well hidden. The puzzle deepens a bit when we switch from GDP per person, the usual measure of income and productivity, to GDP per hour worked, a better measure of labor productivity.

Whether one looks at levels or at rates of change, one cannot show any clear negative relationship between social spending and GDP per capita. Those convinced that tax-based social programs must have large negative effects on GDP have tried two strategies. Some have doggedly tortured the data further, to get the right confession. But the preferred negative relationship to social spending remains elusive. Thus others have used the second strategy of retreating to computer simulations on imagined data, or imagining macro-extrapolations of a micro-study labor-supply slope, to get out the truth we know is there.

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