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Public Economics

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This text by one of Europe's leading economists covers a wide variety of public economics issues with great clarity and precision, illustrating them with a wealth of carefully-chosen examples and problems.

Starting from theories of general equilibrium analysis, Laffont considers issues of market failure, collective decisionmaking, and distributional equity. He analyzes the important informational and motivational problems involved in planning solutions for market failures, and provides a rigorous justification for the theoretical foundations of public economics.

Using applied general equilibrium methods to analyze recent debates about the conduct of U.S. foreign trade policy, de Melo and Tarr show that in terms of costs to the economy and to consumers, nontariff barriers in textiles, automobiles, and steel have more than reversed the benefits of cumulative tariff liberalization achieved in successive postwar GATT rounds.

In recent decades, governments have built up substantial public debt, which is often accompanied by a growing public sector and fiscal policies that neglect long-term considerations. The contributors to this CESifo volume consider whether the development of public debt in the United States and six EU countries is sustainable--that is, whether fiscal policies in these countries can be continued without creating the potential for government bankruptcy. The sustainability of public debt presents a challenge not only to public policy design but also to economic theory.

Theory and Applications

The marginal cost of public funds (MCF) measures the loss incurred by society in raising additional revenues to finance government spending. The MCF has emerged as one of the most important concepts in public economics; it is a key component in evaluations of tax reforms, public expenditure programs, and other public policies.

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. This twenty-first installment in the series reports on recent research concerning both taxation and social insurance policy.

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