Does Direct Democracy Reduce the Size of Government? New Evidence from Historical Data, 1890-2000
Using historical data for all Swiss cantons from 1890 to 2000, we estimate the causal effect of direct democracy on government spending. The main innovation in this paper is that we use fixed effects to control for unobserved heterogeneity and instrumental variables to address the potential endogeneity of institutions. We find that the budget referendum and lower costs to launch a voter initiative are effective tools in reducing canton level spending. However, we find no evidence that the budget referendum results in more decentralized government or a larger local government. Our instrumental variable estimates suggest that a mandatory budget referendum reduces the size of canton spending between 13 and 19 percent. A 1 percent lower signature requirement for the initiative reduces canton spending by up to 2 percent.
Direct Democracy, Fiscal Policy, Switzerland
Using a new dataset of Swiss cantons from 1890 to 2000, we estimate the causal effect of direct democracy on government spending. Our analysis is novel in two ways: first, we use fixed effects to control for unobserved heterogeneity; second, we combine a new instrument with fixed effects to address the potential endogeneity of institutional reform. We find that direct democracy has a constraining, but modest effect on spending. Our estimates suggest that a mandatory budget referendum reduces canton expenditures by 9 percent. A decline in the signature requirement for the voter initiative by one percent reduces spending by 2.2 percent. We find no evidence that direct democracy at the canton level results in higher local spending or a more decentralized government.
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