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Political Economy

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Interests, Ideas, and Institutions in Historical Perspective

The repeal of Britain's Corn Laws in 1846--one of the most important economic policy decisions of the nineteenth century--has long intrigued and puzzled political scientists, historians, and economists. Why would a Conservative prime minister act against his own party's interests? The Conservatives entered government in 1841 with a strong commitment to protecting agriculture; five years later, the Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel presided over repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws, violating party principles and undercutting the economic interests of the land-owning aristocracy.

Analysis and Evidence

The variety of constitutional designs found in democratic governments has important effects on policy choices and outcomes. That is the conclusion reached in Democratic Constitutional Design and Public Policy, in which the constitutional procedures and constraints through which laws and public policies are adopted--election laws, the general architecture of government, the legal system, and methods for amendment and reform--are evaluated for their political and economic effects.

The United States's post-World War II emphasis on activist fiscal policy for short-term economic stabilization was called into question in the 1960s, and by the late 1980s was superseded by the view that fiscal policy should focus on long-run structural concerns. For the past two decades both public policy and economic research emphasized monetary policy as a stabilization tool. But there remain issues in American macroeconomic policy having to do with budget deficits, present and projected, as well as a recent revival of interest in fiscal policy as a stabilization tool.

A country's stance on international trade is an important component of its economic welfare. Yet relatively little theoretical attention has been paid to developing accurate methods to assess trade policies, leaving practitioners and policy makers with ad hoc solutions that lack theoretical foundation. In this book, James Anderson and Peter Neary present a new approach to gauging trade restrictiveness. Extending the standard theory of index numbers that apply to prices, output, or productivity, Anderson and Neary develop index numbers that apply directly to policy variables.

The contrasting trends toward earlier retirement and greater longevity have resulted in steadily increasing retirement costs over the last forty years. One important factor influencing early retirement decisions is the expansion of retirement benefits; but studies predict that most countries, particularly those with early retirement incentives, will be unable to meet future pension and social security obligations.

Problems and Prospects

Colombia, once a model of fiscal discipline for other Latin American nations, has seen its fiscal situation deteriorate since the early 1990s. Higher government spending, taxes that did not keep pace with expenditures, and severe recession led to an unsustainable debt-to-GDP ratio of 52 percent in 2002. Short-term tax increases, even coupled with spending reforms, have not restored Colombia to fiscal balance.

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.The papers in Volume 19 address issues relevant to current policy debates as well as questions that are of longer-term interest.

Problems and Prescriptions

Japan, the world's second largest economy, has suffered from a prolonged period of stagnation and malaise since 1991. Subpar growth, failing banks, plummeting real estate and stock prices, deflation, unprecedented unemployment, and huge government liabilities have persisted, despite extraordinary fiscal and monetary policy fixes.

In 2000, the average driver in US metropolitan areas endured 27 hours of traffic delays, a rise from 7 hours in 1980. In many other countries, traffic delays are considerably worse than in the United States, and in developing countries urban traffic congestion is increasing with alarming rapidity. For fifty years, economists have been advocating congestion pricing as the way to deal with urban traffic congestion; but today, even after some successes, congestion pricing is encountering considerable political resistance.

This new edition of the leading text on business and government focuses on the insights economic reasoning can provide in analyzing regulatory and antitrust issues. Departing from the traditional emphasis on institutions, Economics of Regulation and Antitrust asks how economic theory and empirical analyses can illuminate the character of market operation and the role for government action and brings new developments in theory and empirical methodology to bear on these questions.

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