Publications by Type: Journal Article

Alesina, Alberto, Andrea Ichino, and Loukas Karabarbounis. 2011. “Gender Based Taxation and the Allocation of Family Chores.” American Economic Journals: Economic Policy, 1-40. Abstract
Gender-Based Taxation (GBT) satisfies Ramsey’s rule of optimality because it taxes at a lower rate the more elastic labor supply of women. This holds when different elasticities between men and women are taken as exogenous. We study GBT in a model in which labor supply elasticities emerge endogenously from the bargained allocation of goods and time in the family. We explore the cases of superior bargaining power for men, higher men wages and higher women productivity in home duties. In all cases, men commit to a career in the market and take less home duties than women. As a result, their market work becomes less substitutable to home duty and their labor supply responds less to changes in the market wage. When society can resolve its distributional concerns efficiently with gender-specific lump sum transfers, GBT with higher marginal tax rates on (single and married) men is optimal. In addition, GBT affects the intrafamily bargaining, leading to a more balanced allocation of labor market outcomes across spouses and a smaller gender gap in labor supply elasticities.
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Alesina, Alberto, and Paola Giuliano. 2010. “The Power of the Family.” Journal of Economic Growth 15: 93-125. Abstract
The structure of family relationships influences economic behavior and attitudes. We define our measure of family ties using individual responses from the World Value Survey regarding the role of the family and the love and respect that children need to have for their parents for over 70 countries. We show that strong family ties imply more reliance on the family as an economic unit which provides goods and services and less on the market and on the government for social insurance. With strong family ties home production is higher, labor force participation of women and youngsters, and geographical mobility, lower. Families are larger (higher fertility and higher family size) with strong family ties, which is consistent with the idea of the family as an important economic unit. We present evidence on cross country regressions. To assess causality we look at the behavior of second generation immigrants in the US and we employ a variable based on the grammatical rule of pronoun drop as an instrument for family ties. Our results overall indicate a significant influence of the strength of family ties on economic outcomes.
Alesina, Alberto, and Silvia Ardagna. 2010. “Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes vs. Spending.” Tax Policy and the Economy 24 (October): 35-68. Abstract
We examine the evidence on episodes of large stances in fiscal policy, both in cases of fiscal stimuli and in that of fiscal adjustments in OECD countries from 1970 to 2007. Fiscal stimuli based upon tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based upon spending increases. As for fiscal adjustments those based upon spending cuts and no tax increases are more likely to reduce deficits and debt over GDP ratios than those based upon tax increases. In addition, adjustments on the spending side rather than on the tax side are less likely to create recessions. We confirm these results with simple regression analysis.
Alesina, Alberto. 2008. “Comments on "When Do Policy Reforms Work?‟ by Daron Acemoglu et al.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Spring.
Alesina, Alberto, Philippe Aghion, and Francesco Trebbi. 2008. “Electoral Rules and Minority Representation in U.S. Cities.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 128: 325-358. Abstract
This paper studies the choice of electoral rules, in particular the question of minority representation. Majorities tend to disenfranchise minorities through strategic manipulation of electoral rules. With the aim of explaining changes in electoral rules adopted by US cities, particularly in the South, we show why majorities tend to adopt “winner-take-all” city-wide rules (at-large elections) in response to an increase in the size of the minority when the minority they are facing is relatively small. In this case, for the majority it is more e
Alesina, Alberto, and Guido Tabellini. 2008. “Bureaucrats or Politicians? Part II: Multiple Policy Tasks.” Journal of Public Economics 92: 426-447. Abstract
Policies are typically chosen by politicians and bureaucrats. This paper investigates first the normative criteria with which to allocate policy tasks to elected policymakers (politicians) or non-elected bureaucrats. Politicians are preferable if there is uncertainty about social preferences and flexibility is valuable, or if policy complementarities and compensation of losers is uncertainty about social preferences and flexibility is valuable, or if policy complementarities and compensation of losers is important. Bureaucrats are preferable if time inconsistency and short-termism is an issue, or if vested interests have large stakes in the policy outcome. We then compare this normative benchmark with the case in which politicians choose when to delegate and show that the two generally differ.
Alesina, Alberto, Filipe Campante, and Guido Tabellini. 2008. “Why Is Fiscal Policy Often Procyclical?” Journal of the European Economic Association 6 (5): 1006-1036. Abstract
Fiscal policy is procyclical in many developing countries.We explain this policy failure with a political agency problem. Procyclicality is driven by voters who seek to “starve the Leviathan” to reduce political rents. Voters observe the state of the economy but not the rents appropriated by corrupt governments. When they observe a boom, voters optimally demand more public goods or lower taxes, and this induces a procyclical bias in fiscal policy. The empirical evidence is consistent with this explanation: Procyclicality of fiscal policy is more pronounced in more corrupt democracies.
Alesina, Alberto, and Guido Tabellini. 2007. “Bureaucrats or Politicians? Part I: A Single Policy Task.” American Economic Review 97: 169-179. Abstract
This paper investigates the normative criteria that guide the allocation of a policy task to an elected politician versus an independent bureaucrat. The bureaucrat is preferable for technical tasks for which ability is more important than effort, or if there is great uncertainty about whether the policymaker has the required abilities. The optimal allocation of redistributive tasks is ambiguous, and depends on how the bureaucrat can be instructed. But irrespective of the normative conclusion, the politician prefers not to delegate redistributive policies.

Reprinted in D. Masciandaro and M. Quintyn (2007), Designing Financial Supervision Institutions: Independence, Accountaiblity and Governance, Edward Elgar, UK.

Alesina, Alberto, and Nicola Fuchs-Schuendeln. 2007. “Good Bye Lenin (or not?) – The Effect of Communism on People‟s Preferences.” American Economic Review 97: 1507-1528. Abstract
Preferences for redistribution and state intervention in social policies, as well as the generosity of welfare states, differ significantly across countries. In this paper, we test whether there exists a feedback process of the economic regime on individual preferences. We exploit the “experiment” of German separation and reunification to establish exogeneity of the economic system. From 1945 to 1990, East Germans lived under a Communist regime with heavy state intervention and extensive redistribution. We find that, after German reunification, East Germans are more in favor of redistribution and state intervention than West Germans, even after controlling for economic incentives. This effect is especially strong for older cohorts, who lived under Communism for a longer time period. We further find that East Germans’ preferences converge towards those of West Germans. We calculate that it will take one to two generations for preferences to converge completely.
Alesina, Alberto, Silvia Ardagna, and Francesco Trebbi. 2006. “Who Adjusts and When? On the Political Economy of Stabilizations.” IMF Staff Papers 53: 1-49. Abstract
Why do countries delay stabilizations of large and increasing budget deficits and inflation? And what explains the timing of reforms? We use the war-of-attrition model to guide our empirical study on a vast sample of countries. We find that stabilizations are more likely to occur when times of crisis occur, when new governments take office, when governments are “strong” (that is, presidential systems and unified governments with a large majority of the party in office), and when the executive branch faces fewer constraints. The role of external inducements like IMF programs has at best a weak effect, but problems of reverse causality are possible.

Mundell-Fleming Lecture

Alesina, Alberto, and Enrico Spolaore. 2006. “Conflict, Defense Spending and the Number of Nations.” European Economic Review 50: 91-120. Abstract
This paper provides a formal model of endogenous border formation and choice of defense spending in a world with international conflict. We examine both the case of democratic governments and of dictatorships. The model is consistent with three observations. First, breakup of countries should follow a reduction in the likelihood of international conflicts. Second, the number of regional conflicts between smaller countries may increase as a result of the breakup of larger countries. Third, the size of the peace dividend (the reduction in defense spending in a more peaceful world) is limited by the process of country breakup.
Alesina, Alberto, Torsten Persson, and Guido Tabellini. 2006. “Reply to Blankart and Koester‟s Political Economics versus Public Choice.” Kyklos 59: 201-8.
Alesina, Alberto, and Alexander Wagner. 2006. “Choosing (and Reneging on) Exchange Rate Regimes.” Journal of the European Economic Association 4: 770-799. Abstract
We use data on announced and actual exchange rate arrangements to ask which countries follow de facto regimes different from their de iure ones, that is, do not do what they say. Our results suggest that countries with poor institutional quality have difficulty in maintaining pegging and abandon it often. In contrast, many countries with relatively good institutions display fear of floating, that is, they manage more than announced, perhaps to signal their differences from those countries incapable of maintaining promises of monetary stability.
Alesina, Alberto, and Eliana La Ferrara. 2005. “Preferences for Redistribution in the Land of Opportunities.” Journal of Public Economics 89: 897-931. Abstract
This paper explores how individual preferences for redistribution depend on future income prospects. In addition to estimating the impact of individuals’ socioeconomic background and of their subjective perceptions of future mobility, we employ panel data to construct 'objective' measures of expected gains and losses from redistribution for different categories of individuals. We find that such measures have considerable explanatory power and perform better than 'general mobility' indexes. We also find that preferences for redistribution respond to individual beliefs on what determines one’s position in the social ladder. Ceteris paribus, people who believe that the American society offers 'equal opportunities are more averse to redistribution.
Alesina, Alberto, Silvia Ardagna, Giuseppe Nicoletti, and Fabio Schiantarelli. 2005. “Regulation and Investment.” Journal of the European Economic Association 3: 791-825. Abstract
We use newly assembled data on regulation in several sectors of many OECD countries to provide evidence that regulatory reform of product markets is associated with an increase in investment. A component of reform that plays a very important role is entry liberalization, but privatization also has a substantial effect on investment. Sensitivity analysis suggests that our results are robust.
Alesina, Alberto, Ignazio Angeloni, and Federico Etro. 2005. “International Unions.” American Economic Review 95: 602-15.

We model an international union as a group of countries deciding to centralize the provision of public goods, or policies, that generate externalities across union members. The trade-off between the benefits of coordination and the loss of independent policymaking endogenously determines size, composition and scope of the union. Policy uniformity reduces the size of the union, may block the entry of new members and induces excessive centralization. We study flexible rules with non-uniform policies that reduce these inefficiencies, focusing particularly on arrangements that are relevant for the ongoing debate on the institutional structure of the European Union.

Alesina, Alberto, Ignazio Angeloni, and Ludger Shuknecht. 2005. “What Does the European Union Do?” Public Choice 123: 275-319. Abstract
The goal of this paper is to evaluate the attribution of policy prerogatives to European Union level institutions and compare them to the implications of normative policy models and to the preferences of European citizens. For this purpose we construct a set of indicators to measure the policy-making intensity of the European Union (European Council, Parliament, Commission, Court of Justice, etc.). We confirm that the extent and the intensity of policymaking by the EU have increased sharply over the last 30 years, but at different speeds, and in different degrees, across policy domains. In recent years the areas that have expanded most are quite remote from the EEC’s original mission of establishing a free market zone with common external trade policy. On the contrary some policy domains that would normally be attributed to the highest level of government remain at national level.We argue that the resulting allocation of prerogatives between the EU and member countries is partly inconsistent with normative criteria concerning the assignment of policies at different government levels, as laid out in the theoretical literature.
Alesina, Alberto, and Enrico Spolaore. 2005. “War, Peace and the Size of Countries.” Journal of Public Economics 89: 1333-54. Abstract
This paper studies the relationship between international conflict and the size distribution of countries in a model in which both peaceful bargaining and nonpeaceful confrontations are possible. We show how the size distribution of countries depends on the likelihood, benefits, and costs of conflict and war. We also study the role of international law and show how better defined international "property rights" may lead to country breakup and more numerous local conflicts.
Alesina, Alberto, and George-Marios Angeletos. 2005. “Fairness and Redistribution: US vs. Europe.” American Economic Review 95: 913-35. Abstract
Different beliefs about the fairness of social competition and what determines income inequality influence the redistributive policy chosen in a society. But the composition of income in equilibrium depends on tax policies. We show how the interaction between social beliefs and welfare policies may lead to multiple equilibria or multiple steady states. If a society believes that individual effort determines income, and that all have a right to enjoy the fruits of their effort, it will choose low redistribution and low taxes. In equilibrium, effort will be high and the role of luck will be limited, in which case market outcomes will be relatively fair and social beliefs will be self-fulfilled. If instead, a society believes that luck, birth, connections, and/or corruption determine wealth, it will levy high taxes, thus distorting allocations and making these beliefs self-sustained as well. These insights may help explain the cross-country variation in perceptions about income inequality and choices of redistributive policies.
Reprinted in Fairness in Law and Economics, edited by Lee Anne Fennell, Max Pam Professor of Law and Richard H. McAdams, Bernard D. Meltzer Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, USA
Alesina, Alberto, and Eliana La Ferrara. 2005. “Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance.” Journal of Economic Literature 43: 721-61. Abstract
We survey and assess the literature on the positive and negative effects of ethnic diversity on economic policies and outcomes. Our focus is on communities of different size and organizational structure, such as countries, cities in developed countries, and villages and groups in developing countries. We also consider the endogenous formation of political jurisdictions and highlight several open issues in need of further research, in particular the endogenous formation of ethnic identity and the measurement of ethnic diversity.