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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Stiglitz, 1998. "Distinguished Lecture on Economics in Government: The Private Uses of Public Interests: Incentives and Institutions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 3-22, Spring.
  • 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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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A11 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Role of Economics; Role of Economists
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption

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