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Le rôle de la théorie de l’optimum du second rang en économie publique

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  • Boadway, Robin

    (Queen’s University)

Abstract

This paper surveys the evolution of the use of the theory of second best in public economics. It argues that much of modern normative public economics can be interpreted as simply applied second-best analysis. The original theory of second best as expounded by Lipsey and Lancaster involved analysing policy in a single-consumer economy with a fixed distortion, and was especially interested in whether marginal cost pricing, or piece-meal prescriptions, could still be maintained. That analysis was subsequently extended to multi-household economies, to multi-distortion cases and to dynamic settings, and became the basis for the optimal tax revolution in public economics. However, more significantly, in the wake of optimal tax analysis and duality theory, the second-best distortion has effectively been made endogenous; and the general government policy problem has been posed as a principal-agent one. The most common method is by assuming non-observability of some important household characteristic or behavioural outcome. As a consequence of these developments, most public policy problems can be viewed as special applications of second-best analysis. For example, the general problem of the efficiency-equity trade-off (the "optimal income tax" problem) and the limit to redistribution can be viewed as second-best problems. A couple of the interesting features of viewing policy problems as second-best problems are as follows. For one, simple policy prescriptions no longer become possible. For another, seemingly odd types of policies, such as quantity restrictions, in-kind transfers and public provision of social insurance become "efficient" policy instruments in certain circumstances. The literature also stresses that second-best policies are typically time-inconsistent. In the face of this, standard second-best optima cannot be attained. Optimal time-consistent policies can also include unusual policy instruments that would otherwise be ruled out in a second-best setting. Cette étude analyse l’évolution de la théorie de l’optimum du second rang en économie publique. Elle soutient qu’une partie importante de l’économie publique normative moderne peut être interprétée comme une analyse du second rang. La théorie originale du second rang, telle que l’ont exposée Lipsey et Lancaster (1956), supposait l’analyse de politiques dans une économie où il n’y a qu’un seul consommateur et une distorsion fixe. De plus, elle cherchait particulièrement à savoir si la tarification au coût marginal, ou la politique à la pièce, peut être maintenue. Cette analyse a ensuite été étendue aux économies constituées de plusieurs ménages, aux cas où l’on observe de multiples distorsions, aux environnements dynamiques, pour finalement constituer la base de la révolution dans le domaine de la taxation optimale en économie publique. Toutefois, il est particulièrement important de souligner que, dans le sillage de l’analyse de l’impôt optimal et de la théorie de la dualité, la distorsion du second rang a été efficacement rendue endogène, et le problème général de la politique gouvernementale a été posé comme un problème de principal-agent. La méthode la plus courante consiste à supposer qu’il est impossible d’observer le comportement des ménages ainsi que certaines de leurs caractéristiques importantes. Suite à ces développements, la plupart des problèmes de politique publique peuvent être perçus comme une application particulière de l’analyse du second rang. Par exemple, le choix entre l’efficacité et l’équité (le problème de « l’impôt sur le revenu optimal ») d’une part et la limite en matière de redistribution d’autre part, peuvent être considérés comme des problèmes du second rang. Considérer les problèmes de politique comme des problèmes du second rang présente des caractéristiques intéressantes. Tout d’abord, de simples recommandations de politiques ne sont plus possibles. De plus, des politiques en apparence variées, comme les restrictions sur les quantités, les transferts en nature et le financement public de l’assurance sociale deviennent, dans certaines circonstances, des instruments de politiques efficaces. Les ouvrages prétendent aussi que les politiques du second rang sont habituellement incohérentes à travers le temps. Ainsi, l’optimum du second rang standard ne peut être atteint. Des politiques optimales avec cohérence intertemporelle peuvent également inclure des instruments de politique inhabituels qui, autrement, auraient été éliminés dans un cadre du second rang.

Suggested Citation

  • Boadway, Robin, 1999. "Le rôle de la théorie de l’optimum du second rang en économie publique," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 75(1), pages 29-65, mars-juin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ris:actuec:v:75:y:1999:i:1:p:29-65
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