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Distinguished Lecture on Economics in Government: The Private Uses of Public Interests: Incentives and Institutions

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  • Joseph Stiglitz

Abstract

[Joseph Stiglitz was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1993-95, and chairman of the CEA from 1995 through February 1997.] Today, I want to share with you some of my thoughts about the possibilities and limitations of government. These thoughts are focused around a simple question: Why is it so difficult to implement even Pareto improvements? Working in Washington, I quickly saw that although a few potential changes were strictly Pareto improvements, there were many other changes that would hurt only a small, narrowly defined group (for example, increasing the efficiency of the legal system might hurt lawyers). But if everyone except a narrowly defined special interest group could be shown to benefit, surely the change should be made. In practice, however, "almost everyone" was rarely sufficient in government policy-making and often such near-Pareto improvements did not occur. My major theme will be to provide a set of explanations for why this might be so. I shall put forward four hypotheses in this lecture, each of which provides part of the explanation for the failure in at least one instance of a proposed Pareto improvement. These hypotheses, like much of the literature on government failures, focus on the role of incentives: how misaligned incentives can induce government officials to take actions that are not, in any sense, in the public interest.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 12 (1998)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 3-22

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:12:y:1998:i:2:p:3-22

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.12.2.3
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  1. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-61, November.
  2. Nalebuff, Barry J & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1983. "Information, Competition, and Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(2), pages 278-83, May.
  3. Greenwald, Bruce C & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1986. "Externalities in Economies with Imperfect Information and Incomplete Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 229-64, May.
  4. Farrell, Joseph, 1987. "Information and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 113-29, Fall.
  5. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-64, October.
  6. Akerlof, George A, 1970. "The Market for 'Lemons': Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500, August.
  7. John Vickers & George Yarrow, 1988. "Privatization: An Economic Analysis," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262720116, December.
  8. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1996. "Whither Socialism?," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262691825, December.
  9. Stanley Fischer, 1996. "Why are central banks pursuing long-run price stability?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 7-34.
  10. Isham, Jonathan & Narayan, Deepa & Pritchett, Lant, 1995. "Does Participation Improve Performance? Establishing Causality with Subjective Data," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 9(2), pages 175-200, May.
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