The cost growth of government revisited

Joshua Semat, David Lowery, Suzanna Linn, William D. Berry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


What accounts for the growing cost of government in the US? [Berry, William D., and David Lowery. 1984. The Growing Cost of Government: A Test of Two Explanations. Social Science Quarterly 65 (3): 735-749] tested two explanations for why the costs of goods and services in the public sector have increased faster than these costs in the private sector in the US: Baumols Disease [Baumol, William J. 1967. Macroeconomics of Unbalanced Growth: The Anatomy of Urban Crisis. The American Economic Review 57 (3): 415-426], which focuses on the need for government to match wage increases in the more productive private sector, and [Buchanan, James M., and Gordon Tullock. 1977. The Expanding Public Sector: Wagner Squared. Public Choice 31 (1): 147-150] Bureau Voting explanation, which focuses on the voting power of government employees. Berry and Lowery (1984) tested these two explanations using data for the 1947-1979 period and found strong support for the former but little support for the latter. Decades later, a much longer time-series is now available for empirical analysis. Additionally, the character of both public- and private-sector production and the voting power of public employees have changed in ways that may influence the empirical veracity of the two explanations. For these reasons, we extend the original analysis through 2010 to assess whether Baumols Disease and Bureau Voting continue to have relevance for understanding government cost growth. We find that Baumols Disease continues to be the better explanation despite changes in both sectors, although public sector wages are now more closely tied to general private rather than manufacturing wages, suggesting that growing production costs may be serving as an increasingly relevant downward pressure on the scope of real government activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)723-737
Number of pages15
JournalBusiness and Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Industrial relations
  • Political Science and International Relations


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