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Rules and Restraint

Government Spending and the Design of Institutions

Rules and Restraint

Government Spending and the Design of Institutions

Government spending has increased dramatically in the United States since World War II despite the many rules intended to rein in the insatiable appetite for tax revenue most politicians seem to share. Drawing on examples from the federal and state governments, Rules and Restraint explains in lucid, nontechnical prose why these budget rules tend to fail, and proposes original alternatives for imposing much-needed fiscal discipline on our legislators.

One reason budget rules are ineffective, David Primo shows, is that politicians often create and preserve loopholes to protect programs that benefit their constituents. Another reason is that legislators must enforce their own provisions, an arrangement that is seriously compromised by their unwillingness to abide by rules that demand short-term sacrifices for the sake of long-term gain. Convinced that budget rules enacted through such a flawed legislative process are unlikely to work, Primo ultimately calls for a careful debate over the advantages and drawbacks of a constitutional convention initiated by the states—a radical step that would bypass Congress to create a path toward change. Rules and Restraint will be required reading for anyone interested in institutional design, legislatures, and policymaking.

216 pages | 16 line drawings, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2007

American Politics and Political Economy Series

Economics and Business: Economics--Government Finance

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“American democracy is replete with legal rules that restrict the power of elected officials. Rules and Restraint shows that many popular rules, such as balanced budget requirements and spending limits, are restraints in name only because no one can enforce them. With its blend of rigorous theory and evidence, this innovative book is required reading for reformers as well as scholars who want to understand why political institutions sometimes fail to live up to their promise, and how to make them more effective.”<John G. Matsusaka, University of Southern California>

John G. Matsusaka, University of Southern California

“There are no other books on budgeting that approach this level of insight or breadth. Rules and Restraint is a fine, and finely crafted, book that will go right to the top of the list of standard textbooks for classes and references for practitioners.”<Michael Munger, Duke University>

Michael Munger, Duke University

“To achieve their ends, rules must provide procedures that are instrumentally efficacious and they, in turn, must be credibly enforceable. Design and enforcement are the twin concerns of David Primo . . . as he explores these questions in general and applies his arguments to budget rules in particular. He models spending limits, supermajority voting rules, and the executive veto, demonstrates the difficulties of enforcement, and then turns to the experiences of the American states as a test-bed for his theory. This is a fine piece of social science."

Kenneth A. Shepsle, Harvard University

"David Primo is motivated by the puzzle of why federal budgetary levels are unaffected by rules designed to restrain spending, and he wonders if rules can ever be effective. . . . His analysis cogently argues why rules and restraint are somewhat of an oxymoron at the congressional level. . . . Those seeking a study of legislative activity framed from an economic theory perspective may find this account quite useful for graduate classroom adoption."

Aimee Franklin | APSA Legislative Studies Newsletter

"A substantial contribution to the existing literature on political institutions and fiscal limits. . . . By writing one of those rare books which should interest both political scientists and practitioners of politics, Primo has provided a very fine service for his readers."

Michael J. New | Public Choice

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1          Introduction
2          Rule Design and Enforcement
3          External Enforcement
4          Internal Enforcement
5          The U.S. States
6          The Federal Government
7          Conclusion
Appendix A     Technical Material for Chapter 3
Appendix B      Technical Material for Chapter 4
Appendix C     Technical Material for Chapter 5
Appendix D     Technical Material for Chapter 6


American Political Science Association: Alan Rosenthal Award

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