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Bicameral legislatures and budget deficits

John Sides:

Downsizing Legislatures

Monkey Cage reader Thomas Hurst sends me this Wall Street Journal article on state legislatures that are considering the cost effectiveness of unicameralism. He asks: what effects does bi- vs. unicameralism have?

Here’s a little research (gated, I’m afraid) by William Heller:

In this study I look at the relationship between bicameralism and government budget deficits. The more actors there are who can kill legislation or influence its content, the more deals must be cut to pass a budget. Bicameralism sets up a bilateral veto game between legislative chambers, which leads to higher government budget deficits, all else constant. Since it is easier to cut deals to raise spending than to raise taxes, the need to cut deals across the chambers of a bicameral legislature generally leads to higher spending and, hence, higher deficits. I test this hypothesis on a sample of deficits from 17 countries, from 1965 to 1990.

Here also is a review essay on (gated) by Heller.

In this working paper (pdf), Michael Cutrone and Nolan McCarty review the formal modeling and evidence on bicameralism and conclude:

bq, In this essay, we have considered a number of arguments in favor of bicameralism as an organizing principal for modern legislatures. When viewed through the tools of contemporary legislative analysis – spatial, multilateral bargaining, and informational models – the case for bicameralism seems less than overwhelming. Even in models where bicameralism might have an effect, we find that the necessary conditions for such an effect are empirically rare. Further, much of the empirical evidence of the policy effects bicameralism is either weak or attributable to either malapportionment or supermajoritarianism, outcomes that could theoretically be produced in unicameral legislatures.

If readers know of any other research, please discuss in comments.

True bicameralism (unlike Britain’s) doesn’t work simply because it makes policymaking very difficult. It leads to negotiated, watered down policies which are usually sub-optimal.

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