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Article

The Economics of End-of-Life Spending  

Hans Olav Melberg

End-of-life spending is commonly defined as all health costs in the 12 months before death. Typically, the costs represent about 10% of all health expenses in many countries, and there is a large debate about the effectiveness of the spending and whether it should be increased or decreased. Assuming that health spending is effective in improving health, and using a wide definition of benefits from end-of-life spending, several economists have argued for increased spending in the last years of life. Others remain skeptical about the effectiveness of such spending based on both experimental evidence and the observation that geographic within-country variations in spending are not correlated with variations in mortality.

Article

The Economics of Long-Term Care  

Norman Bannenberg, Martin Karlsson, and Hendrik Schmitz

Long-term care (LTC) is arguably the sector of the economy that is most sensitive to population aging: its recipients are typically older than 80 years whereas most care providers are of working age. Thus, a number of ongoing societal trends interact in the determination of market outcomes in the LTC sector: trends in longevity and healthy life expectancy interact with changing family structures and norms in shaping the need for services. The supply side is additionally affected by changes in employment patterns, in particular regarding the transition into retirement, as well as by cross-regional imbalances in demographic and economic conditions. The economic literature on long-term care considers many of these issues, aims at understanding this steadily growing sector, and at guiding policy. Key economic studies on long-term care address determinants of the demand for long-term care, like disability and socio-economic status; the two most important providers: informal family caregivers and nursing homes; and the financing and funding of LTC.

Article

Economic Studies on the Opioid Crisis: Costs, Causes, and Policy Responses  

Johanna Catherine Maclean, Justine Mallatt, Christopher J. Ruhm, and Kosali Simon

The United States has experienced an unprecedented crisis related to the misuse of and addiction to opioids. As of 2018, 128 Americans die each day of an opioid overdose, and total economic costs associated with opioid misuse are estimated to be more than $500 billion annually. The crisis evolved in three phases, starting in the 1990s and continuing through 2010 with a massive increase in use of prescribed opioids associated with lax prescribing regulations and aggressive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry. A second phase included tightening restrictions on prescribed opioids, reformulation of some commonly misused prescription medications, and a shift to heroin consumption over the period 2010 to 2013. Since 2013, the third phase of the crisis has included a movement toward synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, and a continued tightening of opioid prescribing regulations, along with the growth of both harm reduction and addiction treatment access policies, including a possible 2021 relaxation of buprenorphine prescribing regulations. Economic research, using innovative frameworks, causal methods, and rich data, has added to our understanding of the causes and consequences of the crisis. This body of research identifies intended and unintended impacts of policies designed to address the crisis. Although there is general agreement that the causes of the crisis include a combination of supply- and demand-side factors, and interactions between them, there is less consensus regarding the relative importance of each. Studies show that regulations can reduce opioid prescribing but may have less impact on root causes of the crisis and, in some cases, have spillover effects resulting in greater use of more harmful substances obtained in illicit markets, where regulation is less possible. There are effective opioid use disorder treatments available, but access, stigma, and cost hurdles have stifled utilization, resulting in a large degree of under-treatment in the United States. How challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may intersect with the opioid crisis is unclear. Emerging areas for future research include understanding how societal and health care systems disruptions affect opioid use, as well as which regulations and policies most effectively reduce potentially inappropriate prescription opioid use and illicit opioid sources without unintended negative consequences.

Article

Economic Theory of Criminal Law  

Keith N. Hylton

Criminal law consists of substantive and procedural parts. Substantive law is the set of rules defining conduct that violates the law. Procedural criminal law is the set of rules regulating the process of punishment. Substantive rules apply mostly to individual actors, and procedural rules apply to public enforcement agencies and adjudicators. Economic theory of criminal law consists of normative and positive parts. Normative economic theory, which began with writings by Beccaria and Bentham, aims to recommend an ideal criminal punishment scheme. Positive economic theory, which appeared later in writings by Holmes and Posner, aims to justify and to better understand the criminal law rules that exist. Since the purpose of criminal law is to deter socially undesirable conduct, economic theory, which emphasizes incentives, would appear to be an important perspective from which to examine criminal law. Positive economic theory, applied to substantive criminal law, seeks to explain and to justify criminal law doctrine in economic terms—that is, in terms that emphasize the incentive effects created by the law. The positive economic theory of criminal law literature can be divided into three phases: Classical deterrence theory, neoclassical deterrence, and modern synthesis. The modern synthesis provides a rationale for fundamental criminal law doctrines and also more puzzling portions of the law such as the doctrines of intent and necessity. Positive economic theory also provides a rationale for the allocation of enforcement responsibilities.

Article

The Effect of Government Policy on Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation  

Ayman Chit and Paul Grootendorst

Drug companies are profit-maximizing entities, and profit is, by definition, revenue less cost. Here we review the impact of government policies that affect sales revenues earned on newly developed drugs and the impact of policies that affect the cost of drug development. The former policies include intellectual property rights, drug price controls, and the extension of public drug coverage to previously underinsured groups. The latter policies include regulations governing drug safety and efficacy, R&D tax credits, publicly funded basic research, and public funding for open drug discovery consortia. The latter policy, public funding of research consortia that seek to better understand the cellular pathways through which new drugs can ameliorate disease, appears very promising. In particular, a better understanding of human pathophysiology may be able to address the high failure rate of drugs undergoing clinical testing. Policies that expand market size by extending drug insurance to previously underinsured groups also appear to be effective at increasing drug R&D. Expansions of pharmaceutical intellectual property rights seem to be less effective, given the countervailing monopsony power of large public drug plans.

Article

The Effect of Immigration on Education  

Giorgio Brunello

Does a higher share of immigrants affect the school performance of both immigrants and natives? Do desegregation policies improve efficiency? The existing evidence suggests that a higher share of immigrants has a negative (and often sizable) effect on the school performance of immigrants and a negative but probably small effect on the performance of natives. When average school performance is considered, this asymmetry generates concave peer effects, a key condition for the efficiency of desegregating policies. The broad message from the empirical literature is that these policies are not only equitable, in that they provide better opportunities to individuals with relatively low parental background, but also efficient.

Article

Equality of Opportunity in Health and Healthcare  

Florence Jusot and Sandy Tubeuf

Recent developments in the analysis of inequality in health and healthcare have turned their interest into an explicit normative understanding of the sources of inequalities that calls upon the concept of equality of opportunity. According to this concept, some sources of inequality are more objectionable than others and could represent priorities for policies aiming to reduce inequality in healthcare use, access, or health status. Equality of opportunity draws a distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” sources of inequality. While legitimate sources of differences can be attributed to the consequences of individual effort (i.e. determinants within the individual’s control), illegitimate sources of differences are related to circumstances (i.e. determinants beyond the individual’s responsibility). The study of inequality of opportunity is rooted in social justice research, and the last decade has seen a rapid growth in empirical work using this literature at the core of its approach in both developed and developing countries. Empirical research on inequality of opportunity in health and healthcare is mainly driven by data availability. Most studies in adult populations are based on data from European countries, especially from the UK, while studies analyzing inequalities of opportunity among children are usually based on data from low- or middle-income countries and focus on children under five years old. Regarding the choice of circumstances, most studies have considered social background to be an illegitimate source of inequality in health and healthcare. Geographical dimensions have also been taken into account, but to a lesser extent, and more frequently in studies focusing on children or those based on data from countries outside Europe. Regarding effort variables or legitimate sources of health inequality, there is wide use of smoking-related variables. Regardless of the population, health outcome, and circumstances considered, scholars have provided evidence of illegitimate inequality in health and healthcare. Studies on inequality of opportunity in healthcare are mainly found in children population; this emphasizes the need to tackle inequality as early as possible.

Article

Explaining the Mathematics Gender Gap: The Role of Stereotypes  

Pilar Cuevas Ruiz, Ismael Sanz, and Almudena Sevilla

Descriptive stereotypes such as “girls are not good at mathematics” or prescriptive stereotypes, that is, fixed views about women’s societal roles, can explain the persistent gender gap in mathematics. Stereotypes lower girls’ beliefs, expectations, and incentives to put forth effort, and can constrain girls’ choices in male-dominated high-paying careers that are math-intensive and that require strong math skills. This gap slows progress toward gender equality in the labor market and hinders productivity and economic growth. Policy interventions to alleviate the negative impacts of descriptive stereotypes aim to prevent girls from internalizing socially constructed behaviors aligned with prevalent gender stereotypes regarding the innate mathematical abilities of boys and girls. Boosting girls’ confidence in their math skills includes introducing them to female role models, such as women math teachers, using gender-neutral language, and providing textbooks and other teaching materials that challenge gender stereotypes. A different set of policies focuses on altering the environment in which girls learn, rather than modifying their beliefs. By adjusting the testing methods (such as reducing the level of competition) or adapting the instructional approach to better align with the learning style of girls, it is possible to create an environment that enables more girls to achieve their maximum potential and to accurately assess their math abilities and interests, rather than simply their test-taking or classroom performance. However, interventions that aim to modify the beliefs and attitudes of girls and women ex post, as well as those that seek to alter the environment, may not work in the long term because they reinforce preexisting stereotypes and operate within the constraints of those stereotypes. For instance, while modifying the testing environment may result in higher grades for girls, it may not necessarily alter the perception that girls are incapable of excelling in math. In some cases, these interventions may even have negative consequences. Encouraging girls to “lean in” and behave like boys, for example, can lead to unequal, unjust, and inefficient outcomes because the benefits (economic returns) of doing so are lower or even negative for girls in light of existing gender stereotypes. One popular and affordable approach to combating gender stereotypes involves addressing (unconscious) biases among teachers, parents, and peers through initiatives such as unconscious bias training and self-reflection on biases. The underlying premise is that by increasing awareness of their own (unconscious) biases, individuals will engage their more conscious, non-gender-stereotypical thinking processes. However, such behavioral interventions can sometimes have unintended consequences and result in backlash, and their effectiveness may vary significantly depending on the context, so that their external validity is often called into question. The recognition of the adaptable nature of both conscious and unconscious stereotypes has led to progress in economics, with the development of social learning and information-based theories. Interventions resulting from these models can effectively counteract prescriptive stereotypes that limit girls’ education to certain fields based on societal expectations of gender roles. However, prescriptive gender stereotypes are often based on biased beliefs about the innate abilities of girls and women. Overcoming deeply ingrained descriptive stereotypes about innate abilities of boys and girls is a fruitful avenue for future economics research and can help close the gender performance gap in mathematics.

Article

Financial Protection Against Medical Expense  

Owen O'Donnell

Financial protection is claimed to be an important objective of health policy. Yet there is a lack of clarity about what it is and no consensus on how to measure it. This impedes the design of efficient and equitable health financing. Arguably, the objective of financial protection is to shield nonmedical consumption from the cost of healthcare. The instruments are formal health insurance and public finances, as well as informal and self-insurance mechanisms that do not impair earnings potential. There are four main approaches to the measurement of financial protection: the extent of consumption smoothing over health shocks, the risk premium (willingness to pay in excess of a fair premium) to cover uninsured medical expenses, catastrophic healthcare payments, and impoverishing healthcare payments. The first of these does not restrict attention to medical expenses, which limits its relevance to health financing policy. The second rests on assumptions about risk preferences. No measure treats medical expenses that are financed through informal insurance and self-insurance instruments in an entirely satisfactory way. By ignoring these sources of imperfect insurance, the catastrophic payments measure overstates the impact of out-of-pocket medical expenses on living standards, while the impoverishment measure does not credibly identify poverty caused by them. It is better thought of as a correction to the measurement of poverty.

Article

Frameworks for Priority Setting in Health and Social Care  

Marissa Collins, Neil McHugh, Rachel Baker, Alec Morton, Lucy Frith, Keith Syrett, and Cam Donaldson

Health and social care organizations work within the context of limited resources. Different techniques to aid resource allocation and decision-making exist and are important as scarcity of resources in health and social care is inescapable. Healthcare systems, regardless of how they are organized, must decide what services to provide given the resources available. This is particularly clear in systems funded by taxation, which have limited budgets and other limited resources (staff, skills, facilities, etc.) and in which the claims on these resources outstrip supply. Healthcare spending in many countries is not expected to increase over the short or medium term. Therefore, frameworks to set priorities are increasingly required. Four disciplines provide perspectives on priority setting: economics, decision analysis, ethics, and law. Although there is overlap amongst these perspectives, they are underpinned by different principles and processes for priority setting. As the values and viewpoints of those involved in priority setting in health and social care will differ, it is important to consider how these could be included to inform a priority setting process. It is proposed that these perspectives and the consideration of values and viewpoints could be brought together in a combined priority setting framework for use within local health and social care organizations.

Article

Health Information Technology  

Jordan Everson and Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin

The potential for health information technology (HIT) to reshape the information-intensive healthcare industry has been recognized for decades. Nevertheless, the adoption and use of IT in healthcare has lagged behind other industries, motivating governments to take a role in supporting its use to achieve envisioned benefits. This dynamic has led to three major strands of research. Firstly, the relatively slow and uneven adoption of HIT, coupled with government programs intended to speed adoption, has raised the issue of who is adopting HIT, and the impact of public programs on rates of adoption and diffusion. Secondly, the realization of benefits from HIT appears to be occurring more slowly than its proponents had hoped, leading to an ongoing need to empirically measure the effect of its use on the quality and efficiency of healthcare as well as the contexts under which benefits are best realized. Thirdly, increases in the adoption and use of HIT have led to the potential for interoperable exchange of patient information and the dynamic use of that information to drive improvements in the healthcare delivery system; however, these applications require developing new approaches to overcoming barriers to collaboration between healthcare organizations and the HIT industry itself. Intertwined through each of these issues is the interaction between HIT as a tool for standardization and systemic change in the practice of healthcare, and healthcare professionals’ desire to preserve autonomy within the increasingly structured healthcare delivery system. Innovative approaches to improve the interactions between professionals, technology, and market forces are therefore necessary to capitalize on the promise of HIT and develop a continually learning health system.

Article

The Hong Kong Housing Market  

Lok Sang Ho and Yonglin Wang

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government made a tremendous effort to raise the homeownership rate, starting with Mr. Tung Chee-hwa, the first Chief Executive, who, in his Policy Address in 1997, vowed to raise the homeownership rate from below 50% to 70% in 10 years. The figures showed, however, that while the total homeownership rate had gone up by 18 percentage points in 15 years prior to 1997, from 1997 to Q3 2022, in the space of 25 years, the total homeownership rose from 46.7% to 52.6%, or a mere 5.9 percentage points in 25 years. The nonsubsidized private homeownership rate rose from 30% in 1985 to 36.2% in 1997 (6.2 percentage points in 12 years), yet it rose only from 36.2% in 1997 to 37.2% in 2022Q3, amounting to only 1 percentage point in 25 years. The puzzle may lie in the SAR government’s mistaken strategy of providing increasing opportunities for public housing tenants and subsidized flat owners to profit from the housing benefits. These benefits turn out to be at the expense of the middle-class people who provide much impetus to economic growth and who bear the brunt of the tax burden. The various transaction taxes meant to curb speculation turn out to impede the trading-up process. By significantly reducing the supply of existing homes, and especially that of starter homes, an unintended consequence is much sharper price increases for starter homes than for larger homes. This leads to the proliferation of so-called nanoflats that are tiny yet very expensive.

Article

Housing, Neighborhoods, and Education  

Sarah A. Cordes, Jeehee Han, and Amy Schwartz

Children’s educational outcomes are determined not only by school inputs, such as teachers, curriculum, or classroom peers, but also by a broad range of resources and experiences outside the classroom. Housing and neighborhoods—where children live—are likely where students spend most of their time when not in school and can play a crucial role in children’s development. Housing may influence children’s K–12 educational outcomes through three key channels. First, unit quality (i.e., size, ventilation, etc.) may affect student performance through sleep, ability to concentrate, or health. Second, affordability and tenure may shape student outcomes by affecting disposable income or wealth accumulation, which could be used for complementary educational inputs or could influence outcomes by affecting parental stress and housing stability. Third, housing stability/mobility may itself result in better or worse academic outcomes depending on whether moves are made to access better opportunities or are disruptive. Neighborhoods may also play an important role in education by shaping the peers and adult role models to whom children are exposed, through levels of exposure to crime and violence, and access to opportunities, such as the quality of local schools. A growing body of research points to the importance of both housing and neighborhoods in shaping educational outcomes, suggesting investments in housing or neighborhoods may pay an educational dividend and such investments may be leveraged to improve children’s educational outcomes. Yet there is still work to be done to better understand the roles that housing and neighborhoods play in shaping educational outcomes. In particular, future research should focus on examining how the physical aspects of housing may shape children’s outcomes, disentangling the effects of residential mobility under different circumstances (i.e., forced moves due to job losses versus voluntary moves), and estimating the effects of specific neighborhood changes — or improvements — on academic outcomes.

Article

Housing Policy and Affordable Housing  

Christian A.L. Hilber and Olivier Schöni

Lack of affordable housing is a growing and often primary policy concern in cities throughout the world. The main underlying cause for the “affordability crisis,” which has been mounting for decades, is a combination of strong and growing demand for housing in desirable areas in conjunction with tight long-term supply constraints—both physical and man-made regulatory ones. The affordability crisis tends to predominately affect low- and moderate-income households. Increasingly, however, middle-income households—which do not usually qualify for government support—are similarly affected. Policies that aim to tackle the housing affordability issue are numerous and differ enormously across countries. Key policies include mortgage subsidies, government equity loans, rent control, social or public housing, housing vouchers, low-income tax credits, and inclusionary zoning, among others. The overarching aim of these policies is to (a) reduce the periodic housing costs of or (b) improve access to a certain tenure mode for qualifying households. Existing evidence reveals that the effectiveness and the distributional and social welfare effects of housing policies depend not only on policy design but also on local market conditions, institutional settings, indirect (dis)incentives, and general equilibrium adjustments. Although many mainstream housing policies are ineffective, cost-inefficient, and/or have undesirable distributional effects from an equity standpoint, they tend to be politically popular. This is partly because targeted households poorly understand adverse indirect effects, which is exploited by vote-seeking politicians. Partly, it is because often the true beneficiaries of the policies are the politically powerful existing property owners (homeowners and landlords), who are not targeted but nevertheless benefit from positive policy-induced house price and rent capitalization effects. The facts that existing homeowners often have a voter majority and landlords additionally may be able to influence the political process via lobbying lead to the conundrum of ineffective yet politically popular housing policies. In addition to targeted policies for individuals most in need (e.g., via housing vouchers or by providing subsidized housing), the most effective policies to improve housing affordability in superstar cities for all income groups might be those that focus on the root causes of the problem. These are (a) the strongly and unequally growing demand for housing in desirable markets and (b) tight land use restrictions imposed by a majority of existing property owners that limit total supply of housing in these markets. Designing policies that tackle the root causes of the affordability crisis and help those in need, yet are palatable to a voter majority, is a major challenge for benevolent policymakers.

Article

Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave: Evidence on the Economic Impact of Legislative Changes in High-Income Countries  

Serena Canaan, Anne Sophie Lassen, Philip Rosenbaum, and Herdis Steingrimsdottir

Labor market policies for expecting and new mothers emerged at the turn of the 19th century. The main motivation for these policies was to ensure the health of mothers and their newborn children. With increased female labor market participation, the focus has gradually shifted to the effects that parental leave policies have on women’s labor market outcomes and gender equality. Proponents of extending parental leave rights for mothers in terms of duration, benefits, and job protection have argued that this will support mothers’ labor market attachment and allow them to take time off from work after childbirth and then safely return to their pre-birth jobs. Others have noted that extended maternity leave can work as a double-edged sword for mothers: If young women are likely to spend months, or even years, on leave, employers are likely to take that into consideration when hiring and promoting their employees. These policies may therefore end up adversely affecting women’s labor market outcomes. This has led to an increased focus on activating fathers to take parental leave, and in 2019, the European Parliament approved a directive requiring member states to ensure at least 2 months of earmarked paternity leave. The literature on parental leave has proliferated during the past two decades. The increased number of studies on the topic has brought forth some consistent findings. First, the introduction of short maternity leave is beneficial for both maternal and child health and for mothers’ labor market outcomes. Second, there appear to be negligible benefits from a leave extending beyond 6 months in terms of health outcomes and children’s long-term outcomes. Furthermore, longer leaves have little, or even adverse, influence on mothers’ labor market outcomes. However, evidence suggests that there may be underlying heterogeneous effects from extended leave among different socioeconomic groups. The literature on the effect of earmarked paternity leave indicates that these policies are effective in increasing fathers’ leave-taking and involvement in child care. However, the evidence on the influence of paternity leave on gender equality in the labor market remains scarce and is somewhat mixed. Finally, recent studies that focus on the effect of parental leave policies for firms find that in general, firms are able to compensate for lost labor when their employees go on leave. However, if firms face constraints when replacing employees, it could negatively influence their performance.

Article

Mismatch in Higher Education  

Gill Wyness

The first studies of higher education mismatch were motivated by a desire to understand the consequences of affirmative action policies, which lowered academic admission requirements for underrepresented students (typically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups). This is the so-called “mismatch hypothesis,” which suggests that affirmative action may actually be harmful because it enables students to attend colleges they are academically underprepared for (“mismatched” to) while squeezing out students who would otherwise have enrolled and succeeded. At its heart, the study of mismatch is motivated by the proposed existence of complementarities between students and courses—the assumption that the highest-achieving students would get the most benefit from attending the highest-quality schools, and vice versa. Both undermatch—where high-attaining students attend low-quality universities—and overmatch—where low-attaining students attend high-quality universities—have been studied. Only a very small number of studies have been able to causally examine the impact of mismatch. A major challenge is that unobserved factors that influence individuals’ decisions to attend a particular college (and for the college to accept them) are likely to affect their likelihood of completion and their probability of doing well in the labor market. Several recent studies have made progress in this area, but the evidence on the impact of mismatch still shows mixed results, suggesting that more research is needed, for example, in studying different policy shocks (e.g., natural experiments such as the use of affirmative action bans, which create exogenous variation in mismatch) for students at different margins. There is also a need to expand the study of mismatch beyond the United Kingdom and the United States, which has been the main focus of studies so far, and also beyond higher education into other contexts such as further education colleges.

Article

The Multiple Missions of Community College  

Christopher Jepsen and Adela Soliz

U.S. community colleges are extremely diverse; these public schools provide vocational awards, the first 2 years of a 4-year university degree, adult basic education, specialized training for companies, coursework for industry credentials, and many offerings in between. In other words, community colleges have many different missions. They serve students who, on average, have less advantaged educational and socioeconomic backgrounds than students attending 4-year institutions, yet community colleges receive less funding per student, on average. Regarding remedial or developmental education, many studies estimating the effect of participating in traditional developmental education courses use regression discontinuity models to look at the population of students who barely fail placement exams, compared to those who barely pass. These studies find mixed results. Results are more promising for corequisite models where students take remedial classes alongside college-level classes. Many community college students state that their goal is to transfer to a 4-year school and complete a bachelor’s degree, but only roughly one quarter achieve this goal. Although state articulation agreements aim to simplify the process of transferring, descriptive analyses of these programs suggest that they have at best modest effects on transferring and completing a bachelor’s degree. Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) programs aim to reduce the number of choices students face as they work through their community college courses. In the early 21st century, evaluations of these programs suggest that they raise bachelor’s degree receipt relative to students in majors or schools that do not offer ADTs, but more research is needed. Despite low persistence rates, particularly in academic programs at community colleges, nearly all the awards offered by these institutions lead to increases, often sizable, in labor-market outcomes. Broadly speaking, the biggest gains are for the program with the most coursework, an associate’s degree, which typically requires 2 years of full-time coursework. At the same time, stackable credentials and non-credit credentials, awards that can sometimes be completed in under a year, often lead to increases of more than 10% in earnings and over 4 percentage points in employment. In contrast, certificates have mixed impacts on labor-market outcomes, although the results for employment are more promising than those for earnings.

Article

New Economic Geography  

Ching-mu Chen and Shin-Kun Peng

For research attempting to investigate why economic activities are distributed unevenly across geographic space, new economic geography (NEG) provides a general equilibrium-based and microfounded approach to modeling a spatial economy characterized by a large variety of economic agglomerations. NEG emphasizes how agglomeration (centripetal) and dispersion (centrifugal) forces interact to generate observed spatial configurations and uneven distributions of economic activity. However, numerous economic geographers prefer to refer to the term new economic geographies as vigorous and diversified academic outputs that are inspired by the institutional-cultural turn of economic geography. Accordingly, the term geographical economics has been suggested as an alternative to NEG. Approaches for modeling a spatial economy through the use of a general equilibrium framework have not only rendered existing concepts amenable to empirical scrutiny and policy analysis but also drawn economic geography and location theories from the periphery to the center of mainstream economic theory. Reduced-form empirical studies have attempted to test certain implications of NEG. However, due to NEG’s simplified geographic settings, the developed NEG models cannot be easily applied to observed data. The recent development of quantitative spatial models based on the mechanisms formalized by previous NEG theories has been a breakthrough in building an empirically relevant framework for implementing counterfactual policy exercises. If quantitative spatial models can connect with observed data in an empirically meaningful manner, they can enable the decomposition of key theoretical mechanisms and afford specificity in the evaluation of the general equilibrium effects of policy interventions in particular settings. Several decades since its proposal, NEG has been criticized for its parsimonious assumptions about the economy across space and time. Therefore, existing challenges still require theoretical and quantitative models on new microfoundations pertaining to the interactions between economic agents across geographical space and the relationship between geography and economic development.

Article

Political Economy of Protection  

Xenia Matschke

The political economy of protection is a field within economics, but it has significant overlap with its sister discipline, political science. For a political economy of protection, one needs at a minimum two types of economic agents: political decision makers who provide protection, and economic agents who are protected or even actively seek protection. The typical political economy scenario leads to an economic outcome that is not Pareto-optimal: From a general welfare perspective, the political interaction is not desirable. An important task of political economy research is to explain why and how political interaction takes place. For the first part of the question, it appears clear that if protection is actively sought, the protection seeker intends to benefit from his activities. However, if the policymakers were truly interested in Pareto optimality and welfare maximization, they would refuse to protect. Hence a crucial assumption in the political economy literature is that the politicians’ objective function differs from the general welfare function. For the second part of the question, theoretical political economy models consider either the election campaign phase when politicians are eager to win a majority of votes (preelection models) or the phase when the politicians have been elected and may benefit from the spoils associated with holding office (postelection models). Whereas in the election phase, politicians have an incentive to cater to the interests of that part of the electorate that is considered pivotal for the election outcome, in the postelection phase they may be open to, for example, special interest group (SIG) influences from which they derive utility. A first wave of theoretical political economy models originates from the 1980s. Building on these early advances, more elaborate models have been proposed. The most prominent one is the Grossman–Helpman protection for sale (PfS) model. It delivers a postelection general equilibrium framework of trade policy determination. In this common agency model, industry interest groups act as principals and offer the government a menu of contracts of campaign contributions in exchange for trade policy. The PfS model predicts that industries that lobby for protection will obtain trade protection in equilibrium, whereas nonlobbying industries will face import subsidies. Numerous papers have evaluated the PfS model empirically and found that the implied weight on contributions in the governmental welfare function and the implied share of the population represented by lobbies are both very high. Remedies for this surprising result exist, but it has also been argued that the found empirical regularities may be spurious. At the beginning of the 21st century, the majority of political economy literature is still theoretical, but better data availability increasingly offers the opportunity to empirically test theoretical results. A number of challenges remain for the political economy literature, however. In particular, more work is required to better understand policymaker interests. Moreover, an incorporation of political economy aspects into the new trade theory models that allow for intra-industry trade and firm diversity appears to be a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Political Economy of Reform  

Stuti Khemani

“Reform” in the economics literature refers to changes in government policies or institutional rules because status-quo policies and institutions are not working well to achieve the goals of economic wellbeing and development. Further, reform refers to alternative policies and institutions that are available which would most likely perform better than the status quo. The main question examined in the “political economy of reform” literature has been why reforms are not undertaken when they are needed for the good of society. The succinct answer from the first generation of research is that conflict of interest between organized socio-political groups is responsible for some groups being able to stall reforms to extract greater private rents from status-quo policies. The next generation of research is tackling more fundamental and enduring questions: Why does conflict of interest persist? How are some interest groups able to exert influence against reforms if there are indeed large gains to be had for society? What institutions are needed to overcome the problem of credible commitment so that interest groups can be compensated or persuaded to support reforms? Game theory—or the analysis of strategic interactions among individuals and groups—is being used more extensively, going beyond the first generation of research which focused on the interaction between “winners” and “losers” from reforms. Widespread expectations, or norms, in society at large, not just within organized interest groups, about how others are behaving in the political sphere of making demands upon government; and, beliefs about the role of public policies, or preferences for public goods, shape these strategic interactions and hence reform outcomes. Examining where these norms and preferences for public goods come from, and how they evolve, are key to understanding why conflict of interest persists and how reformers can commit to finding common ground for socially beneficial reforms. Political markets and institutions, through which the leaders who wield power over public policy are selected and sanctioned, shape norms and preferences for public goods. Leaders who want to pursue reforms need to use the evidence in favor of reforms to build broad-based support in political markets. Contrary to the first generation view of reforms by stealth, the next generation of research suggests that public communication in political markets is needed to develop a shared understanding of policies for the public good. Concomitantly, the areas of reform have circled from market liberalization, which dominated the 20th century, back to strengthening governments to address problems of market failure and public goods in the 21st century. Reforms involve anti-corruption and public sector management in developing countries; improving health, education, and social protection to address persistent inequality in developed countries; and regulation to preserve competition and to price externalities (such as pollution and environmental depletion) in markets around the world. Understanding the functioning of politics is more important than ever before in determining whether governments are able to pursue reforms for public goods or fall prey to corruption and populism.