This paper surveys the recent literature on the political economy of fiscal policy, in particular the accumulation of government debt. We examine three possible determinants of fiscal balances: opportunistic behavior by policymakers, heterogeneous fiscal preferences of either voters or politicians, and budget institutions. We focus on the contributions of the last 10 years and emphasize findings related to developing countries. We include a recent body of literature on the fiscal preferences of voters, which, interestingly, seems to suggest that voters do not favor highspending governments. We also report some original empirical evidence. First, we test different hypotheses from the political economy literature in a simultaneous manner for a large set of both developed and developing countries. We find that less-fragmented governments and a greater ability of voters to monitor fiscal policy are related to lower deficits; the estimated effects are larger than when the two hypotheses are evaluated separately, as the existing literature does. Second, we suggest the role of the courts in the determination of fiscal policy as a promising new avenue of research, and present some suggestive novel evidence on the importance of this channel.