The Retrenchment Hypothesis and the Extension of the Franchise in England and Wales

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Does an extension of the voting franchise always increase public spending or can it be a source of retrenchment? We study this question in the context of public spending on health-related urban amenities in a panel of municipal boroughs from England and Wales in 1868, 1871 and 1886. We find evidence of a U-shaped relationship between spending on urban amenities and the extension of the local voting franchise. Our model of taxpayer democracy suggests that the retrenchment effect was related to enfranchisement of the middle class through nation-wide reforms and that these reforms might have been Pareto inferior in the average borough.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)990-1020
Number of pages31
JournalThe Economic Journal
Issue number547
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2010