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Why Doesn’t the United States Have

By Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote


EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS REDISTRIBUTE income among their citizens on a much larger scale than does the U.S. government. European social programs are more generous and reach a larger share of citizens. European tax systems are more progressive. European regulations designed to protect the poor are more intrusive. In this paper we try to understand why. The literature on the size of government is rich and varied. However, here we do not focus on the size of government as such, but rather on the redistributive side of government policies. Thus our goal is in one sense narrower than answering the question, “What explains the size of government?” since we focus on a single, but increasingly important, role of fiscal policy. Yet in another sense our focus is broader, because redistributive policies go beyond the government budget—think, for instance, of labor market policies. We consider economic, political, and behavioral explanations for these differences between the United States and Europe. Economic explanations focus on the variance of income and the skewness of the income distribution before taxes and transfers, the social costs of taxation, the volatility of income, and expected changes in income for the median voter. We conclude that most of these theories cannot explain the observed differences. We are grateful to our discussants for very useful suggestions. We also thank Willia

Year: 2013
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