This paper tests the Wagner’s assumption of the one-sided directional flow moving from economic growth to public spending considering an international database over the 1996– 2012 period. By using indicators on the level of country control of corruption, government effectiveness, political stability, rule of law, regulatory quality and voice and accountability, the paper analyses the economic performance-public spending nexus controlling for the quality of the institutions. The empirical evidence supports the existence of the Wagner’s law, showing that, in the short-run, public spending positively reacts to a positive shock in national income, with a lower magnitude for democratic countries. In the long run, the error-correction model shows the convergence between public spending and national output occurring less quickly for non- democratic, low-income and to a smaller extent for non-OECD countries. Institutional quality, such as effort in controlling corruption and the presence of regulations that permit and promote private sector development, may help reducing the amount of per capita public spending and making it more productive. Higher expenses in compositional amenities such as public services for the elderly may explain why public spending per capita will increase the most in economies with a higher share of the population that need healthcare facilities.
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