Principled Agents? The Political Economy of Good Government

Principled Agents? The Political Economy of Good Government

Principled Agents? The Political Economy of Good Government

Principled Agents? The Political Economy of Good Government

Synopsis

Mainstream policy economics now pays more attention to the delivery of policy outcomes and how incentives and institutional change shape the effectiveness of government. But should these issues be studied against a background of purely self-interested public servants? There is plenty of evidence that many citizens are publicly spirited. Can their motivation be harnessed in the public interest? These lectures review how economic thought on these issues has evolved.

Excerpt

This book began life as the Lindahl Lectures which I delivered at the University of Uppsala in October 2002. I remain honored to have been asked to deliver these lectures. Erik Lindahl developed some powerful ideas in public economics and political economy. He represents the spirit in which this book is written—using ideas in political economy and public economics to understand how to make the world a better place. I am particularly grateful to Soren Blomquist and Bertil Holmlund for their hospitality during my visit and their patience and understanding for the delay in writing up these ideas. I am also grateful to the faculty and students at Uppsala who made my visit such a stimulating one.

The main reason for the delay in writing up the lectures has been a creeping ambition to develop some of the ideas more deeply and systematically. For example, it became clear to me that the agency model of politics was less well understood than I had previously thought and the opportunity to develop a more systematic exposition of its potential was too tempting. the manuscript also presents an opportunity to make a statement on the divide between the so-called benevolent dictator view of the government and the public choice view. Having been schooled in one as a graduate student, I have since been on a journey which has tried to square my belief in the importance of sound (and not necessarily minimal) government with the self-evident proposition that government office is frequently abused. It has become clear to me that incentives in government are first order and should be taught as part of any course in public economics. To the original lectures, I also added a more refined chapter on the idea of government failure.

This book is intended as a contribution to the burgeoning field of political economy—combining ideas from economics and political science. I have tried to keep technicalities to a minimum. But some familiarity with the basic tools of micro-economics is necessary to . . .

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