Publications

2005
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.
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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.
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Alesina, Alberto, Ignazio Angeloni, and Federico Etro. 2005. “International Unions.” American Economic Review 95: 602-15.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Alesina, Alberto, and George-Marios Angeletos. 2005. “Corruption, Inequality and Fairness.” Journal of Monetary Economics 52: 1227-44. Abstract
Bigger governments raise the possibilities for corruption; more corruption may in turn raise the support for redistributive policies that intend to correct the inequality and injustice generated by corruption. We formalize these insights in a simple dynamic model. Apositive feedback from past to current levels of taxation and corruption arises either when wealth originating in corruption and rent seeking is considered unfair, or when the ability to engage in corruption is unevenly distributed in the population. This feedback introduces persistence in the size of the government and the levels of corruption and inequality. Multiple steady states exist in some cases.
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Alesina, Alberto, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote. 2005. “Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?” NBER Macroeconomic Annual, 1-64. Abstract
Americans average 25.1 working hours per person in working age per week, but the Germans average 18.6 hours. The average American works 46.2 weeks per year, while the French average 40 weeks per year. Why do western Europeans work so much less than Americans? Recent work argues that these differences result from higher European tax rates, but the vast empirical labor supply literature suggests that tax rates can explain only a small amount of the differences in hours between the U.S. and Europe. Another popular view is that these differences are explained by long-standing European “culture,” but Europeans worked more than Americans as late as the 1960s. In this paper, we argue that European labor market regulations, advocated by unions in declining European industries who argued “work less, work all” explain the bulk of the difference between the U.S. and Europe. These policies do not seem to have increased employment, but they may have had a more society-wide influence on leisure patterns because of a social multiplier where the returns to leisure increase as more people are taking longer vacations.
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Institutional Reforms in Colombia
Alesina, Alberto. 2005. Institutional Reforms in Colombia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Publisher's Version

Editor and author of Introduction, and coauthor of two chapters.

Translation: Spanish.

2004
Alesina, Alberto, Rafael Di Tella, and Robert McCulloch. 2004. “Inequality and Happiness: Are Americans and Europeans Different?” Journal of Public Economics 88: 2009-42. Abstract
We study the effect of the level of inequality in society on individual well-being using a total of 123,668 answers to a survey question about ‘‘happiness’’. We find that individuals have a lower tendency to report themselves happy when inequality is high, even after controlling for individual income, a large set of personal characteristics, and year and country (or, in the case of the US, state) dummies. The effect, however, is more precisely defined statistically in Europe than in the US. In addition, we find striking differences across groups. In Europe, the poor and those on the left of the political spectrum are unhappy about inequality; whereas in the US the happiness of the poor and of those on the left is uncorrelated with inequality. Interestingly, in the US, the rich are bothered by inequality. Comparing across continents, we find that left-wingers in Europe are more hurt by inequality than left-wingers in the US. And the poor in Europe are more concerned with inequality than the poor in America, an effect that is large in terms of size but is only significant at the 10% level. We argue that these findings are consistent with the perception (not necessarily the reality) that Americans have been living in a mobile society, where individual effort can move people up and down the income ladder, while Europeans believe that they live in less mobile societies.
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Alesina, Alberto, Philippe Aghion, and Francesco Trebbi. 2004. “Endogenous Political Institutions.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 119: 565-612. Abstract
A fundamental aspect of institutional design is how much society chooses to delegate unchecked power to its leaders. If, once elected, a leader cannot be restrained, society runs the risk of a tyranny of the majority, if not the tyranny of a dictator. If a leader faces too many ex post checks and balances, legislative action is too often blocked. As our critical constitutional choice, we focus upon the size of the minority needed to block legislation, or conversely the size of the (super)majority needed to govern. We analyze both “optimal” constitutional design and “positive” aspects of this process. We derive several empirical implications which we then discuss.
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Alesina, Alberto, Reza Baqir, and Caroline Hoxby. 2004. “Political Jurisdictions in Heterogeneous Communities.” Journal of Political Economy 112: 348-96. Abstract
We investigate whether political jurisdictions form in response to the trade-off between economies of scale and the costs of a heterogeneous population. We consider heterogeneity in income, race, ethnicity, and religion, and we test the model using American school districts, school attendance areas, municipalities, and special districts. We find strong evidence of a trade-off between economies of scale and racial heterogeneity; we also find evidence of a trade-off between economies of scale and income heterogeneity. Conversely, we find little evidence that ethnic or religious heterogeneity shapes jurisdictions. To clarify the direction of causality between heterogeneity and jurisdictions, we exploit shocks to racial heterogeneity generated by the two world wars.
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Alesina, Alberto, and Roberto Perotti. 2004. “The European Union: A politically incorrect view.” Journal of Economic Perspectives Fall: 27-48. Abstract
In this paper, we present our view of the recent evolution of European integration. We first briefly describe the main features of the institution and decision making process in the European Union, with particular attention to the debate between federalists and super nationalists. We then identify two key issues in the process of European integration: 1) an emphasis on “institutional balance” based on a complex web of institutions with overlapping jurisdiction; 2) A conflict between a dirigiste versus a more laissez faire approach to government. We argue that the first problem leads to a lack of clarity in the allocation of powers between European institutions, confusion in the allocation of prerogatives between national governments and EU institutions, and lack of transparency and accountability. The dirigiste culture also manifests itself in an abundant production of verbose rhetoric, which in our view is far from innocuous and direct set the European policy debate in the wrong direction.We then study how these problems play out in 4 important areas: employment policies, culture and scientific research, foreign and defense policies, and fiscal policy. Finally, we study the implications of the recently proposed European Constitution a potential solution of these two problems.
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Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference
Alesina, Alberto, and Edward Glaeser. 2004. Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press. Publisher's Version

Translations: French, Italian

2003
Alesina, Alberto, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat, and Romain Wacziarg. 2003. “Fractionalization.” Journal of Economic Growth 8: 155-94.
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O. Galor (ed.) (2011), Inequality and Economic Development: The Modern Perspective, Edward Elgar, UK.

Alesina, Alberto. 2003. “The Size of Countries: Does It Matter?” Journal of the European Economic Association Schumpeter Lecture: 301-16.
The Size of Nations
Alesina, Alberto, and Enrico Spolaore. 2003. The Size of Nations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Publisher's Version

Translations: Catalán

2002
Alesina, Alberto, and Robert Barro. 2002. “Currency Unions.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 117 (2): 409-306. Website Abstract
What is the optimal number of currencies in the world? Common currencies affect trading costs and, thereby, the amounts of trade, output, and consumption. From the perspective of monetary policy, the adoption of another country's currency trades off the benefits of commitment to price stability against the loss of an independent stabilization policy. The nature of the tradeoff depends on co-movements of disturbances, on distance, trading costs, and on institutional arrangements such as the willingness of anchor countries to accommodate to the interests of clients.
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Alesina, Alberto, Silvia Ardagna, Roberto Perotti, and Fabio Schiantarelli. 2002. “Fiscal Policy Profits and Investment.” American Economic Review 92: 571-89. Abstract
This paper evaluates the effects of fiscal policy on investment using a panel of OECD countries. We find a sizeable negative effect of public spending—and in particular of its wage component—on profits and on business investment. This result is consistent with different theoretical models in which government employment creates wage pressure for the private sector. Various types of taxes also have negative effects on profits, but, interestingly, the effects of government spending on investment are larger than those of taxes. Our results can explain the so-called “non-Keynesian” (i.e., expansionary) effects of fiscal adjustments.
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