Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 7
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Hanretty, Chris and Koop, Christel 2013. Shall the law set them free? The formal and actual independence of regulatory agencies. Regulation & Governance, Vol. 7, Issue. 2, p. 195.

    Martin, Lanny W. and Vanberg, Georg 2013. Multiparty Government, Fiscal Institutions, and Public Spending. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 75, Issue. 4, p. 953.

    Kangas, Olli E. 2012. Application de théories anciennes à un environnement nouveau: étude du délai de mise en œuvre des premières lois de sécurité sociale en Afrique. Revue internationale de sécurité sociale, Vol. 65, Issue. 1, p. 79.

    Kangas, Olli E. 2012. Poner a prueba antiguas teorías en nuevos entornos: el momento de la introducción de las primeras leyes sobre seguridad social en África. Revista Internacional de Seguridad Social, Vol. 65, Issue. 1, p. 77.

    Kangas, Olli E. 2012. Testing old theories in new surroundings: The timing of first social security laws in Africa. International Social Security Review, Vol. 65, Issue. 1, p. 73.

    Koff, Harlan and Maganda, Carmen 2015. Against the current: transboundary water management in small states on two continents. Water International, Vol. 40, Issue. 2, p. 231.

    Kangas, Olli E. 2012. Alte Theorien in neuer Umgebung auf die Probe stellen: Der Zeitpunkt für erste Gesetze der sozialen Sicherheit in Afrika. Internationale Revue für Soziale Sicherheit, Vol. 65, Issue. 1, p. 81.


Why do small states have big governments?

  • Karen L. Remmer (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2010

Building on the literature on public finance, this article explores the consequences of political scale for government spending. The central argument is that the tendency for small political units to have big governments is not merely the result of economies of scale in the provision of public goods, but a reflection of the greater pressures for public spending faced by politicians in smaller and more homogeneous political units. The importance of such political pressures relative to other influences on spending is assessed on the basis of subnational data by comparing the relationship between size and spending under democracy and dictatorship. To the extent that government expansion is driven by citizen demands, the impact of size on spending may be expected to be more pronounced under democratic than authoritarian governance. Results from a time-series cross-sectional analysis of growth in government spending are consistent with this expectation. Government growth is shaped not only by the population size of political units but also by the interaction between regime and size. Analysis of spending patterns under democratic rule further indicates that size is an important determinant of spending even after controlling for variations in citizen preferences, political institutions, electoral competitiveness, and economic performance. The results have important theoretical implications for the study of fiscal policy and democratic governance around the world because they suggest that political scale conditions the linkages between citizens and the state, creating widely varying incentives for government growth across differently sized political units.

Corresponding author
* E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

A. Alesina , R. Baqir W. Easterly (1999), ‘Public goods and ethnic divisions’, Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(4): 12431284.

A. Alesina R. Wacziarg (1998), ‘Openness, country size and government’, Journal of Public Economics 69(3): 305321.

N. Beck (2001), ‘Time-series-cross-section data: what have we learned in the past few years?’, Annual Review of Political Science 4: 271293.

J.C. Bradbury W.M. Crain (2001), ‘Legislative organization and government spending: cross-country evidence’, Journal of Public Economics 82(3): 309325.

E. Calvo M.V. Murillo (2004), ‘Who delivers? Partisan clients in the Argentine electoral market’, American Journal of Political Science 48(4): 742757.

B. Caplan (2001), ‘Has Leviathan been bound? A theory of imperfectly constrained government with evidence from the states’, Southern Economic Journal 67(4): 825847.

J.S. Ferris E.G. West (1996), ‘Testing theories of real government size: US experience, 1959–89’, Southern Economic Journal 62(3): 537553.

N. Fiorino R. Ricciuti (2007), ‘Legislature size and government spending in Italian regions: forecasting the effects of a reform’, Public Choice 131(1–2): 117125.

G. Garrett (2001), ‘Globalization and government spending around the world’, Studies in Comparative International Development 35(4): 329.

T.W. Gilligan J.G. Matsusaka (2001), ‘Fiscal polity, legislature size, and political parties: evidence from state and local governments in the first half of the 20th century’, National Tax Journal 54(1): 5782.

M. Hallerberg S. Basinger (1998), ‘Internationalization and changes in tax policy in OECD countries: the importance of veto players’, Comparative Political Studies 31(3): 321352.

T.A. Husted L.W. Kenny (1997), ‘The effect of the expansion of the voting franchise on the size of government’, Journal of Political Economy 105(1): 5482.

R.E. McCormick R.D. Tollison (1981), Politicians, Legislation, and the Economy, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

A.H. Meltzer S.F. Richard (1981), ‘A rational theory of the size of government’, Journal of Political Economy 89(5): 914927.

D.C. Mueller P. Murrell (1986), ‘Interest groups and the size of government’, Public Choice 48(2): 125145.

T. Persson G. Tabellini (1999), ‘The size and scope of government: comparative politics with rational politicians’, European Economic Review 43(4–6): 699735.

F. Petry , L. Imbeau , J. Crete M. Clavet (2000), ‘Explaining the evolution of government size in the Canadian provinces’, Public Finance Review 28(1): 2647.

D. Rodrik (1998), ‘Why do more open economies have bigger governments?’, Journal of Political Economy 106(5): 9971032.

D.L. Rogers J.H. Rogers (2000), ‘Political competition and state government size: do tighter elections produce looser budgets?’, Public Choice 105(1–2): 121.

M. Thornton M. Ulrich (1999), ‘Constituency size and government spending’, Public Finance Review 27(6): 588598.

G. Tsebelis (2002), Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

R. Wagner (1976), ‘Revenue structure, fiscal illusion, and budgetary choice’, Public Choice 25(1): 4561.

B.R. Weingast , K.A. Shepsle C. Johnsen (1981), ‘The political economy of benefits and costs: a neoclassical approach to distributive politics’, Journal of Political Economy 89(4): 642664.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 1755-7739
  • EISSN: 1755-7747
  • URL: /core/journals/european-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *