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In this chapter we examined the role of the public sector in the market economy. Since 1929, both the size and scope of government activities in the market have expanded considerably in the United States.
People demand government participation in three areas of economic activity. First, people may want correction of market failure involving public goods, external costs and benefits, and inefficient allocation created by imperfect competition. In each case of market failure, the shift from an inefficient allocation to an efficient one has the potential to eliminate or reduce deadweight losses. Second, people may seek government intervention to expand consumption of merit goods and to reduce consumption of demerit goods. Third, people often want government to participate in the transfer of income. Programs to transfer income have grown dramatically in the United States within the past few decades. The bulk of transfer payment spending is not means-tested.
Government activity is financed primarily by taxes. Two principles of taxation are the ability-to-pay principle, which holds that tax payments should rise with income, and the benefits-received principle, which holds that tax payments should be based on the benefits each taxpayer receives. Taxes may be regressive, proportional, or progressive. The major types of taxes in the United States are income taxes, sales and excise taxes, and property taxes. Economists seek to determine who bears the burden of a tax by examining its incidence. Taxes may be borne by buyers or sellers, depending on the relative elasticities of demand and supply.
Two broad perspectives are used to examine choices in the public sector. One is the public interest approach, which uses cost-benefit analysis to find the efficient solution to resource allocation problems. It assumes that the goal of the public sector is to maximize net social benefits. Cost-benefit analysis requires the estimation of benefits and costs that are not revealed in the marketplace. The second approach to the analysis of the public sector is public choice theory, which assumes utility-maximizing and rent-seeking behavior on the part of participants in the public sector and those trying to influence it. We examined two insights stemming from public choice theory: the problem of rational abstention from voting and the role of special interests.
Identify each of the following government programs as efforts to correct market failure, to promote or discourage the consumption of merit or demerit goods, or to transfer income.
In an effort to beautify their neighborhood, four households are considering leasing a small section of vacant land for a park. For a monthly leasing fee, the owner of the vacant land is willing to arrange for some of the maintenance and to make the park available only to the four households. The demand curves for the four households (A, B, C, and D) wanting parkland are as follows (all demand curves are linear):
|Acres of Parkland Demanded per Month|
|Price per month||A||B||C||D|
Draw the demand curves for the four neighbors, and show the neighborhood demand curve for parkland.
The perfectly competitive blank compact disc industry is in long-run equilibrium, selling blank discs for $5 apiece. Now the government imposes an excise tax of $2 per disc produced.
A monopoly firm has just taken over the blank compact-disc industry. There have been technological advances that have lowered production cost, but the monopoly firm charges a price greater than average total cost, even in the long run. As it turns out, the firm is still selling compact discs for $5. The government imposes an excise tax of $2 per disc produced.
The following hypothetical data give annual spending on various goods and services for households at different income levels. Assume that an excise tax on any of these would, in the long run, be shifted fully to consumers.
|Income range||Average income||Food||Clothing||Entertainment|
Determine whether a tax on any of the following goods would be progressive, proportional, or regressive.