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Public Economics

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Issues, Choices, and Implications

Reform of the federal income tax system has become a perennial item on the domestic policy agenda of the United States, although there is considerable uncertainty over specifics. Indeed the recent report of the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform recommended not one but two divergent policy directions (and included extensive discussion of a third).

Demographic realities will soon force developed countries to find ways to pay for longer retirements for more people. In Pension Strategies in Europe and the United States, leading economists analyze topical issues in pension policy, with a focus on raising the retirement age, increasing retirement savings, and the political sustainability of reforms that will accomplish these goals.

A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes

As Albert Einstein may or may not have said, "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." Indeed, to follow the debate over tax reform, the interested citizen is forced to choose between misleading sound bites and academic treatises. Taxing Ourselves bridges the gap between the two by discussing the key issues clearly and without a political agenda: Should the federal income tax be replaced with a flat tax or sales tax? Should it be left in place and reformed? Can tax cuts stimulate the economy, or will higher deficits undermine any economic benefit?

The rapidly aging populations of many developed countries—most notably Japan and member countries of the European Union—present obvious problems for the public pension plans of these countries. Not only will there be disproportionately fewer workers making pension contributions than there are retirees drawing pension benefits, but the youth-to-age imbalance would significantly affect the total contributive capacity of future generations and hence their total income growth.

Much educational research today is focused on assessing reforms that are intended to create equal opportunity for all students. Many current policies aim at concentrating extra resources on the disadvantaged. The state-of-the-art research in Schools and the Equal Opportunity Problem suggests, however, that even sizeable differential spending on the disadvantaged will not yield an equality of results.

This NBER series presents current academic research findings in the areas of taxation and government spending. The papers included provide important background information for policy analysts in government and the private sector without making specific policy recommendations.

A Global Agenda

Access to education increased enormously in the past century, and higher proportions of people are completing primary, secondary, or tertiary education than ever before. But efforts to universalize the provision of high-quality schooling face major problems. In Educating All Children (which grew out of a multidisciplinary project undertaken by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences), leading experts consider the challenges of achieving universal basic and secondary education globally.

Evaluating the Welfare Impact of the British Privatizations, 1979-1997

The privatization carried out under the Thatcher and Major governments in Britain has been widely (although not universally) considered a success, and has greatly influenced the privatization of state industries in the transition economies of Eastern Europe. Massimo Florio's systematic analysis is the first comprehensive treatment of the overall welfare impact of this broad national policy of divestiture. Using the tools of social cost-benefit analysis, Florio assesses the effect of privatization on consumers, taxpayers, firms, shareholders, and workers.

This solutions manual for Intermediate Public Economics (MIT Press, 2006) offers students an opportunity to practice using the analytical tools of public economics at intermediate and more advanced levels. The 424 exercises in the textbook (all of which are covered in the solutions manual) vary widely in nature and difficulty; some involve reflection on the models used and the discussion of assumptions and conclusions, while others work through general arguments in the text using specific functional forms. Several require the use of data to test theoretical predictions.

Public economics studies how government taxing and spending activities affect the economy—economic efficiency and the distribution of income and wealth. This comprehensive text in public economics covers the core topics market failure and taxation as well as recent developments in the political economy and public choice literatures. It is unique not only in its broad scope but in its balance between public finance and public choice and its combination of theory and relevant empirical evidence.

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