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Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government

Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government

Paperback Lindahl Lectures

By (author) Timothy Besley

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 288 pages
  • Dimensions: 138mm x 210mm x 30mm | 340g
  • Publication date: 11 October 2007
  • Publication City/Country: Oxford
  • ISBN 10: 0199283915
  • ISBN 13: 9780199283910
  • Illustrations note: numerous figures
  • Sales rank: 307,432

Product description

What is good government? Why do some governments fail ? How do you implement political accountability in practice? What incentives do you need to put in place to ensure that politicians and public servants act in the public interest and not their own? These questions and many more are addressed in Timothy Besley's intriguing Lindahl lectures. Economic analyses of government usually divide into two broad camps. One which emphasizes government as a force for public good that can regulate markets, distribute resources and generally work towards improving the lives of its citizens. The other sees government as driven by private interests, susceptible to those with the power to influence its decisions and failing to incentivize its officials to act for the greater public good. This book adopts a middle way between the two extremes, the Publius approach, which recognizes the potential for government to act for the public good but also accepts the fact that things often go wrong. It shares the view that there are certain institutional preconditions for effective government but then proceed to examine exactly what those preconditions are. Timothy Besley emphasises that it is not just about designing an appropriate institutional framework but also about understanding the way incentives work and the process by which the political class is selected.

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Author information

Timothy Besley is Professor of Economics at the LSE and Director of the Suntory Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) at the LSE. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). He has acted as Co-Editor of the American Economic Review and Managing Editor of the Economic Journal. He is an elected member of the Council of the Royal Economic Society, the Econometric Society, and the European Economics Association.

Review quote

Besley's book has great strengths and is recommended to all modern students of political economy. Peter J. Boettke and Christopher J. Coyne, The Review of Austrian Economics Masterful...Principled Agents will be an essential resource for scholars Scott Ashworth, Economica 'How can democratic competition make a government of politicians act as a government for the people? Tim Besley has given us a broad and deep analysis of this fundamental agency problem which is essential to the theory of democracy. This is an important book for anyone who wants to study political science with the best analytical tools of modern economics.' Roger Myerson, William C. Norby Professor of Economics, University of Chicago 'How does the structure of democratic political institutions and organization shape policy choice? This path-breaking book boldly claims that well-designed institutions can help voters select politicians who are "better": more capable and more faithful to the fiduciary duties of public life. Novel in its emphasis on information, this unprecedentedly careful, thorough analysis of the "agency" problem links voters' ability to screen out bad politicians and discipline rent-seeking with the competence, motivation, and alignment of politicians' preferences to explain a wide variety of political economy and public finance outcomes including debt accumulation, the size and scope of government activities, corruption, and political turnover.' James E. Alt, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University 'A wonderful and important book, that combines state of the art analysis and deep knowledge of real world institutions to obtain novel insights about a fundamental issue. It should be read by all those who want to understand what it is that brings about good government.' Guido Tabellini, Professor of Economics, Bocconi University 'Tim Besley demonstrates how to analyze political agency in the intellectual middle ground left open in between the optimism of the traditional welfare-economics approach, and the pessimism of the traditional public-choice approach. The key to good government is institution design- in the best Federalist tradition- to improve incentives in policymaking and selection to public office. Quite simply, a great book by a great economist.' Torsten Persson, Director of the Institute for International Economic Studies

Table of contents

1 COMPETING VIEWS OF GOVERNMENT ; The issues ; This book ; Background ; Economic Policy Making ; Political Economy ; Incentives and Selection in Politics ; Concluding Comments ; 2 THE ANATOMY OF GOVERNMENT FAILURE ; Introduction ; Three Notions of Government Failure ; The Basic Model ; Government Failure ; Democratic Political Failures ; A Dynamic Model ; Government Failure in the Dynamic Model ; Responses to Political Failure ; Concluding Comments ; 3 POLITICAL AGENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY ; Introduction ; Elements of Political Agency Models ; The Baseline Model ; Extensions ; Discussion ; Concluding Comments ; 4 POLITICAL AGENCY AND PUBLIC FINANCE ; Introduction ; The Model ; Three Scenarios ; Implications ; Restraining Government ; Debt and Deficits ; Governments versus NGOs ; Competence ; Conclusions