Developments in Major Fields of Economics
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 34: Public economics
In his Palgrave entry on public economics, Serge-Christophe Kolm (1987: 1053), one of the pioneers of modern public economics, calls the subject “for many reasons the most paradoxical field of economics”. Kolm explains those reasons in some detail, characterizing public economics as an interdisciplinary multi-level subject with a strong disciplinary core. Indeed, the history of public economics spans a vast area including philosophical speculations regarding the nature and purpose of the state as well as downto-earth issues of an applied character, including institutional details and issues such as the legal definition of the base of a particular tax. Its multi-dimensionality renders public economics one of the most challenging fields of the history of economic thought. Kolm (1987: 1053) moreover argues that public economics “is one of the oldest fields in economics, yet it also is one of the newborns”. This paradox is related to the multi-level character emphasized in his entry, offering ample opportunities for new combinations of tools and topics. Richard Musgrave’s (1987: 1055) informative entry on public finance is introduced by the observation that the latter “may well be the oldest branch of economics”. This is substantiated by a historical account including cameralist, mercantilist and physiocratic authors as well as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the German language tradition. Kolm (1987), Musgrave (1987), and Creedy (1984) provide partially complementary and partially overlapping overviews of the field in historical perspective with a special focus on modern developments.
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