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Journal Articles American Journal of Political Science Year : 2009

A General Empirical Law of Public Budgets: A Comparative Analysis


We examine regularities and differences in public budgeting in comparative perspective. Budgets quantify collective political decisions made in response to incoming information, the preferences of decision makers, and the institutions that structure how decisions are made. We first establish that the distribution of budget changes in many Western democracies follows a non-Gaussian distribution, the power function. This implies that budgets are highly incremental, yet occasionally are punctuated by large changes. This pattern holds regardless of the type of political system—parliamentary or presidential—and for level of government. By studying the power function's exponents we find systematic differences for budgetary increases versus decreases (the former are more punctuated) in most systems, and for levels of government (local governments are less punctuated). Finally, we show that differences among countries in the coefficients of the general budget law correspond to differences in formal institutional structures. While the general form of the law is probably dictated by the fundamental operations of human and organizational information processing, differences in the magnitudes of the law's basic parameters are country- and institution-specific.
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hal-03601769 , version 1 (08-03-2022)



Bryan D. Jones, Frank Baumgartner, Christian Breunig, Christopher Wlezien, Stuart Soroka, et al.. A General Empirical Law of Public Budgets: A Comparative Analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 2009, 53 (4), pp.855 - 873. ⟨10.1111/j.1540-5907.2009.00405.x⟩. ⟨hal-03601769⟩
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