edited by Alan J. Auerbach and Martin Feldstein
The Field of Public Economics has been changing rapidly in recent years, and the sixteen chapters contained in this Handbook survey many of the new developments. As a field, Public Economics is defined by its objectives rather than its techniques and much of what is new is the application of modern methods of economic theory and econometrics to problems that have been addressed by economists for over two hundred years. More generally, the discussion of public finance issues also involves elements of political science, finance and philosophy. These connections are evidence in several of the chapters that follow. Public Economics is the positive and normative study of government's effect on the economy. We attempt to explain why government behaves as it does, how its behavior influences the behavior of private firms and households, and what the welfare effects of such changes in behavior are.Following Musgrave (1959) one may imagine three purposes for government intervention in the economy: allocation, when market failure causes the private outcome to be Pareto inefficient, distribution, when the private market outcome leaves some individuals with unacceptably low shares in the fruits of the economy, and stabilization, when the private market outcome leaves some of the economy's resources underutilized.
The recent trend in economic research has tended to emphasize the character of stabilization problems as problems of allocation in the labor market. The effects that government intervention can have on the allocation and distribution of an economy's resources are described in terms of efficiency and incidence effects. These are the primary measures used to evaluate the welfare effects of government policy.
The first volume of the "Handbook of Public Economics" contains eight essays on various topics in Public Economics by international leaders in the field. It begins with an historical perspective on the growth of the area as a whole, and subsequent essays focus on the theory and evidence about the impact of taxation on economic behavior. The material presents an up-to-date survey of the field of public economics by those actually doing work on the frontier of the subject, and is written in a manner that renders it useful to the public finance specialist, whilst remaining understandable for the student and non-specialist.
The publication of volumes 3 and 4 of the "Handbook of Public Economics" affords us several opportunities: to address lacunae in the original two volumes of this series, to revisit topics on which there has been substantial new research, and to address topics that have grown in importance. Indeed, many of the papers individually encompass all three of these elements. For each chapter relates to one from an earlier volume, the new contribution is free standing, written with the knowledge that the reader retains the opportunity to review the earlier chapter to compare perspectives and consider material that the current author has chosen not to cover. Indeed, such comparisons illuminate the evolution of the field during the two decades that have elapsed since work first began on the chapters in volume 1. Taken together, the four volumes offer a comprehensive review of research in public economics over the past few decades, written by many of the field's leading researchers.
In the Handbook of Public Economics, vol. 5, top scholars provide context and order to new research about mechanisms that underlie both public finance theories and applications. These fundamental subjects follow the recent, steady movement away from rational decision-making and toward more personalized approaches to tax generation and expenditure, especially in terms of the use of psychological methods and financial incentives. Closely scrutinized subjects include new research in empirical (instead of theoretical) public finance, the methods for measuring taxes (both in revenue generation and expenditure), and the roles that taxes play in specific settings, such as emerging economies, urban settings, charitable giving, and among political entities (cities, counties, states, countries). Contributors look at both the "tax" and "expenditure" sides of public finance, emphasizing recent influences that psychology and philosophy have exerted in economics with articles on behavioral finance, charitable giving, and dynamic taxation.
To a field enjoying rapid growth, their articles bring context and order, illuminating the mechanisms that underlie both public finance theories and applications. Editor Raj Chetty is the recipient of the 2013 John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association. It focuses on new approaches to both revenue generation and expenditures in public finance. It presents coherent summaries of subjects in public economics that stretch from methodologies to applications. It makes details about public economics accessible to scholars in fields outside economics.