Social Planners Do Not Exist

Enrico Spolaore on his friend, co-author, and mentor Alberto Alesina:

I first met Alberto thirty years ago at Harvard, where he had received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1986, and had returned as faculty, after a couple of years at Carnegie-Mellon. He was already deservedly famous. In 1988, The Economist had presciently picked him as one of the decade’s eight best young economists, as he was transforming the way we approach macroeconomics and economic policy by explicitly bringing politics into the analysis. In his influential contribution to the NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1988, he had forcefully stated that “social planners do not exist.” Economists should not just assume that governments would implement optimal policies (presumably following the economists’ own  recommendations). Instead, we should strive to understand actual policies as resulting from the strategic interactions of partisan politicians with each other and with the public, and often leading to socially inefficient outcomes.

Exactly right. Alesina was one of the most important scholars extending and integrating public choice, especially to macroeconomic questions.


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