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Public economics (or economics of the public sector) is the study of government policy through the lens of economic efficiency and equity. Public economics builds on the theory of welfare economics and is ultimately used as a tool to improve social welfare.
In microeconomics, economic efficiency is, roughly speaking, a situation in which nothing can be improved without something else being hurt. Depending on the context, it is usually one of the following two related concepts:
Equity or economic equality is the concept or idea of fairness in economics, particularly in regard to taxation or welfare economics. More specifically, it may refer to equal life chances regardless of identity, to provide all citizens with a basic and equal minimum of income, goods, and services or to increase funds and commitment for redistribution.
Welfare economics is a branch of economics that uses microeconomic techniques to evaluate well-being (welfare) at the aggregate (economy-wide) level.
Public economics provides a framework for thinking about whether or not the government should participate in economic markets and to what extent it should do so. Microeconomic theory is utilized to assess whether the private market is likely to provide efficient outcomes in the absence of governmental interference; this study involves the analysis of government taxation and expenditures.
A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established. Markets facilitate trade and enable the distribution and resource allocation in a society. Markets allow any trade-able item to be evaluated and priced. A market emerges more or less spontaneously or may be constructed deliberately by human interaction in order to enable the exchange of rights of services and goods. Markets generally supplant gift economies and are often held in place through rules and customs, such as a booth fee, competitive pricing, and source of goods for sale.
Government spending or expenditure includes all government consumption, investment, and transfer payments. In national income accounting the acquisition by governments of goods and services for current use, to directly satisfy the individual or collective needs of the community, is classed as government final consumption expenditure. Government acquisition of goods and services intended to create future benefits, such as infrastructure investment or research spending, is classed as government investment. These two types of government spending, on final consumption and on gross capital formation, together constitute one of the major components of gross domestic product.
This subject encompasses a host of topics including market failures, externalities, and the creation and implementation of government policy.
In neoclassical economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services by a free market is not Pareto efficient, often leading to a net loss of economic value. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals' pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient– that can be improved upon from the societal point of view. The first known use of the term by economists was in 1958, but the concept has been traced back to the Victorian philosopher Henry Sidgwick. Market failures are often associated with public goods, time-inconsistent preferences, information asymmetries, non-competitive markets, principal–agent problems, or externalities.
Broad methods and topics include:
Public finance is the study of the role of the government in the economy. It is the branch of economics that assesses the government revenue and government expenditure of the public authorities and the adjustment of one or the other to achieve desirable effects and avoid undesirable ones.
Mechanism design is a field in economics and game theory that takes an engineering approach to designing economic mechanisms or incentives, toward desired objectives, in strategic settings, where players act rationally. Because it starts at the end of the game, then goes backwards, it is also called reverse game theory. It has broad applications, from economics and politics to networked-systems.
Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. There has recently been a movement for greater use of evidence in guiding policy decisions. Proponents of evidence-based policy argue that high quality scientific evidence, rather than tradition, intuition, or political ideology, should guide policy decisions.
Emphasis is on analytical and scientific methods and normative-ethical analysis, as distinguished from ideology. Examples of topics covered are tax incidence,optimal taxation, and the theory of public goods.
An economic ideology distinguishes itself from economic theory in being normative rather than just explanatory in its approach. It expresses a perspective on the way an economy should run and to what end, whereas the aim of economic theories is to create accurate explanatory models. However the two are closely interrelated as underlying economic ideology influences the methodology and theory employed in analysis. The diverse ideology and methodology of the 74 Nobel laureates in economics speaks to such interrelation.
In economics, tax incidence or tax burden is the effect of a particular tax on the distribution of economic welfare. Economists distinguish between the entities who ultimately bear the tax burden and those on whom tax is initially imposed. The tax burden measures the true economic weight of the tax, measured by the difference between real incomes or utilities before and after imposing the tax. An individuality on whom the tax is levied does not have to bear the true size of the tax. For the example of this difference, assume a firm, that contains employer and employees. The tax imposed on the employer is divided. The concept of tax incidence was initially brought to economists' attention by the French Physiocrats, in particular François Quesnay, who argued that the incidence of all taxation falls ultimately on landowners and is at the expense of land rent. Tax incidence is said to "fall" upon the group that ultimately bears the burden of, or ultimately suffers a loss from, the tax. The key concept of tax incidence is that the tax incidence or tax burden does not depend on where the revenue is collected, but on the price elasticity of demand and price elasticity of supply. As a general policy matter, the tax incidence should not violate the principles of a desirable tax system, especially fairness and transparency.
Optimal tax theory or the theory of optimal taxation is the study of designing and implementing a tax that maximises a social welfare function subject to economic constraints. The social welfare function used is typically a function of individuals' utilities, most commonly a utilitarian function, so the tax system is chosen to maximise the sum of individual utilities. Tax revenue is required to fund the provision of public goods and other government services, as well as for redistribution from rich to poor individuals. However, most taxes distort individual behaviour, because the activity that was being taxed becomes relatively less desirable; for instance, taxes on labour income reduce the incentive to work. The optimization problem involves minimizing these distortions away from the efficient state, caused by taxation, while achieving desired levels of redistribution and provision of public services. Exceptions to this trade-off include non-distortionary taxes, such as lump-sum taxes, where individuals cannot change their behaviour to reduce their tax burden, and Pigouvian taxes, where the market consumption of a good is inefficient and a tax brings consumption closer to the efficient level.
The Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) classification codes are one way categorizing the range of economics subjects. There, Public Economics, one of 19 primary classifications, has 8 categories. They are listed below with JEL-code links to corresponding available article-preview links of The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Online (2008) and with similar footnote links for each respective subcategory if available:
Articles in economics journals are usually classified according to the JEL classification codes, a system originated by the Journal of Economic Literature. The JEL is published quarterly by the American Economic Association (AEA) and contains survey articles and information on recently published books and dissertations. The AEA maintains EconLit, a searchable data base of citations for articles, books, reviews, dissertations, and working papers classified by JEL codes for the years from 1969. A recent addition to EconLit is indexing of economics-journal articles from 1886 to 1968 parallel to the print series Index of Economic Articles.
The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (2018), 3rd ed., is an twenty-volume reference work on economics published by Palgrave Macmillan. It contains around 3,000 entries, including many classic essays from the original Inglis Palgrave Dictionary, and a significant increase in new entries from the previous editions by the most prominent economists in the field, among them 36 winners of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Articles are classified according to Journal of Economic Literature(JEL) classification codes.
In 1971, Peter A. Diamond and James A. Mirrlees published a seminal paper which showed that even when lump-sum taxation is not available, production efficiency is still desirable. This finding is known as the Diamond–Mirrlees efficiency theorem, and it is widely credited with having modernized Ramsey's analysis by considering the problem of income distribution with the problem of raising revenue. Joseph E. Stiglitz and Partha Dasgupta (1971) have criticized this theorem as not being robust on the grounds that production efficiency will not necessarily be desirable if certain tax instruments cannot be used.
One of the achievements for which the great English economist A.C. Pigou is known, was his work on the divergences between marginal private costs and marginal social costs (externalities). In his book, The Economics of Welfare (1932), Pigou describes how these divergences come about:
...one person A, in the course of rendering some service, for which payment is made, to a second person B, incidentally also renders services or disservices to other persons (not producers of like services), of such a sort that payment cannot be extracted from the benefited parties or compensation enforced on behalf of the injured parties (Pigou p. 183).
In particular, Pigou is known for his advocacy of what are known as corrective taxes, or Pigouvian taxes:
It is plain that divergences between private and social net product of the kinds we have so far been considering cannot, like divergences due to tenancy laws, be mitigated by a modification of the contractual relation between any two contracting parties, because the divergence arises out of a service or disservice to persons other than the contracting parties. It is, however, possible for the State, if it so chooses, to remove the divergence in any field by "extraordinary encouragements" or "extraordinary restraints" upon investments in that field. The most obvious forms which these encouragements and restraints may assume are, of course, those of bounties and taxes (Pigou p. 192).
Externalities arise when consumption by individuals or production by firms affect the utility or production function of other individuals or firms.Positive externalities are education, public health and others while examples of negative externalities are air pollution, noise pollution, non-vaccination and more. The government can intervene in the market, using an emission tax for example to create a more efficient outcome; this Pigouvian tax is the optimal policy prescription for any aggregate, negative externality.
Pigou describes as positive externalities, examples such as resources invested in private parks that improve the surrounding air, and scientific research from which discoveries of high practical utility often grow. Alternatively, he describes negative externalities, such as the factory that destroys a great part of the amenities of neighboring sites.
In 1960, the economist Ronald H. Coase proposed an alternative scheme whereby negative externalities are dealt with through the appropriate assignment of property rights. This result is known as the Coase theorem.
Public goods, or collective consumption goods, exhibit two properties; non-rivalry and non-excludability. Something is non-rivaled if one person's consumption of it does not deprive another person, (to a point) a firework display is non-rivaled - since one person watching a firework display does not prevent another person from doing so. Something is non-excludable if its use cannot be limited to a certain group of people. Again, since one cannot prevent people from viewing a firework display it is non-excludable.Conceptually, another example of public good is the service that is provided by law enforcement organizations, such as sheriffs and police. Typically, cities and towns are served by only one police department, and the police department serves all of the people within its jurisdiction.
While the origins of cost–benefit analysis can be traced back to Jules Dupuit's classic article "On the Measurement of the Utility of Public Works" (1844), much of the subsequent scholarly development occurred in the United States and arose from the challenges of water-resource development. In 1950, the U.S. Federal Interagency River Basin Committee's Subcommittee on Benefits and Costs published a report entitled, Proposed Practices for Economic Analysis of River Basin Projects (also known as the Green Book), which became noteworthy for bringing in the language of welfare economics.In 1958, Otto Eckstein published Water-Resource Development: The Economics of Project Evaluation, and Roland McKean published his Efficiency in Government Through Systems Analysis: With Emphasis on Water Resources Development. The latter book is also considered a classic in the field of operations research. In subsequent years, several other important works appeared: Jack Hirshleifer, James DeHaven, and Jerome W. Milliman published a volume entitled Water Supply: Economics, Technology, and Policy (1960); and a group of Harvard scholars including Robert Dorfman, Stephen Marglin, and others published Design of Water-Resource Systems: New Techniques for Relating Economic Objectives, Engineering Analysis, and Governmental Planning (1962).
Political economy is the study of production and trade and their relations with law, custom and government; and with the distribution of national income and wealth. As a discipline, political economy originated in moral philosophy, in the 18th century, to explore the administration of states' wealth, with "political" signifying the Greek word polity and "economy" signifying the Greek word "okonomie". The earliest works of political economy are usually attributed to the British scholars Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo, although they were preceded by the work of the French physiocrats, such as François Quesnay (1694–1774) and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781).
In economics, industrial organization or industrial economy is a field that builds on the theory of the firm by examining the structure of firms and markets. Industrial organization adds real-world complications to the perfectly competitive model, complications such as transaction costs, limited information, and barriers to entry of new firms that may be associated with imperfect competition. It analyzes determinants of firm and market organization and behavior as between competition and monopoly, including from government actions.
Public choice, or public choice theory, is "the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science". Its content includes the study of political behavior. In political science, it is the subset of positive political theory that studies self-interested agents and their interactions, which can be represented in a number of ways – using standard constrained utility maximization, game theory, or decision theory.
Arthur Cecil Pigou was an English economist. As a teacher and builder of the School of Economics at the University of Cambridge, he trained and influenced many Cambridge economists who went on to take chairs of economics around the world. His work covered various fields of economics, particularly welfare economics, but also included Business cycle theory, unemployment, public finance, index numbers, and measurement of national output. His reputation was affected adversely by influential economic writers who used his work as the basis on which to define their own opposing views. He reluctantly served on several public committees, including the Cunliffe Committee and the 1919 Royal Commission on Income tax.
Monetary economics is the branch of economics that studies the different competing theories of money: it provides a framework for analyzing money and considers its functions, and it considers how money, for example fiat currency, can gain acceptance purely because of its convenience as a public good. The discipline has historically prefigured, and remains integrally linked to, macroeconomics. This branch also examines the effects of monetary systems, including regulation of money and associated financial institutions and international aspects.
A Pigovian tax is a tax on any market activity that generates negative externalities. The tax is intended to correct an undesirable or inefficient market outcome, and does so by being set equal to the social cost of the negative externalities. In the presence of negative externalities, the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity. In such a case, the market outcome is not efficient and may lead to over-consumption of the product. Often-cited examples of such externalities are environmental pollution, and increased public healthcare costs associated with tobacco and sugary drink consumption.
National accounts or national account systems (NAS) are the implementation of complete and consistent accounting techniques for measuring the economic activity of a nation. These include detailed underlying measures that rely on double-entry accounting. By design, such accounting makes the totals on both sides of an account equal even though they each measure different characteristics, for example production and the income from it. As a method, the subject is termed national accounting or, more generally, social accounting. Stated otherwise, national accounts as systems may be distinguished from the economic data associated with those systems. While sharing many common principles with business accounting, national accounts are based on economic concepts. One conceptual construct for representing flows of all economic transactions that take place in an economy is a social accounting matrix with accounts in each respective row-column entry.
Government failure, in the context of public economics, is an economic inefficiency caused by a government intervention, if the inefficiency would not exist in a true free market. It can be viewed in contrast to a market failure, which is an economic inefficiency that results from the free market itself, and can potentially be corrected through government regulation. The idea of government failure is associated with the policy argument that, even if particular markets may not meet the standard conditions of perfect competition required to ensure social optimality, government intervention may make matters worse rather than better.
Richard Abel Musgrave was an American economist of German heritage. His most cited work is The Theory of Public Finance (1959), described as "the first English-language treatise in the field." and "a major contribution to public finance thought."
In neoclassical economics, a market distortion is any event in which a market reaches a market clearing price for an item that is substantially different from the price that a market would achieve while operating under conditions of perfect competition and state enforcement of legal contracts and the ownership of private property. A distortion is "any departure from the ideal of perfect competition that therefore interferes with economic agents maximizing social welfare when they maximize their own". A proportional wage-income tax, for instance, is distortionary, whereas a lump-sum tax is not. In a competitive equilibrium, a proportional wage income tax discourages work.
In economics, distribution is the way total output, income, or wealth is distributed among individuals or among the factors of production. In general theory and the national income and product accounts, each unit of output corresponds to a unit of income. One use of national accounts is for classifying factor incomes and measuring their respective shares, as in national Income. But, where focus is on income of persons or households, adjustments to the national accounts or other data sources are frequently used. Here, interest is often on the fraction of income going to the top x percent of households, the next x percent, and so forth, and on the factors that might affect them.
Justice in economics is a subcategory of welfare economics with models frequently representing the ethical-social requirements of a given theory, whether "in the large", as of a just social order, or "in the small", as in the equity of "how institutions distribute specific benefits and burdens". That theory may or may not elicit acceptance. In the Journal of Economic Literature classification codes 'justice' is scrolled to at JEL: D63, wedged on the same line between 'Equity' and 'Inequality' along with 'Other Normative Criteria and Measurement'. Categories above and below the line are Externalities and Altruism.
Mathematical economics is the application of mathematical methods to represent theories and analyze problems in economics. By convention, these applied methods are beyond simple geometry, such as differential and integral calculus, difference and differential equations, matrix algebra, mathematical programming, and other computational methods. Proponents of this approach claim that it allows the formulation of theoretical relationships with rigor, generality, and simplicity.
The marginal cost of public funds (MCF) is a concept in public finance which measures the loss incurred by society in raising additional revenues to finance government spending due to the distortion of resource allocation caused by taxation. Formally, it is defined as the ratio of the marginal value of a monetary unit raised by the government and the value of that marginal private monetary unit. The applications of the marginal cost of public funds include the Samuelson condition for the optimal provision of public goods and the optimal corrective taxation of externalities in public economic theory, the determination of tax-smoothing policy rules in normative public debt analysis and social cost-benefit analysis common in practical policy analysis.
Rural economics is the study of rural economies, including:
The benefit principle is a concept in the theory of taxation from public finance. It bases taxes to pay for public-goods expenditures on a politically-revealed willingness to pay for benefits received. The principle is sometimes likened to the function of prices in allocating private goods. In its use for assessing the efficiency of taxes and appraising fiscal policy, the benefit approach was initially developed by Knut Wicksell (1896) and Erik Lindahl (1919), two economists of the Stockholm School. Wicksell's near-unanimity formulation of the principle was premised on a just income distribution. The approach was extended in the work of Paul Samuelson, Richard Musgrave, and others. It has also been applied to such subjects as tax progressivity, corporation taxes, and taxes on property or wealth. The unanimity-rule aspect of Wicksell's approach in linking taxes and expenditures is cited as a point of departure for the study of constitutional economics in the work of James Buchanan.
The concept of a merit good introduced in economics by Richard Musgrave is a commodity which is judged that an individual or society should have on the basis of some concept of need, rather than ability and willingness to pay. The term is, perhaps, less often used today than it was in the 1960s to 1980s but the concept still lies behind many economic actions by governments which are not performed specifically for financial reasons or by supporting incomes. Examples include in-kind transfers such as the provision of food stamps to support nutrition, the delivery of health services to improve quality of life and reduce morbidity, subsidized housing and education.