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Alberto Alesina

Alberto Alesina is Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economics at Harvard University. He is the coauthor (with Enrico Spolaore) of The Size of Nations (MIT Press, 2003).

Titles by This Author

Reform or Decline

Unless Europe takes action soon, its further economic and political decline is almost inevitable, economists Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi write in this provocative book. Without comprehensive reform, continental Western Europe's overprotected, overregulated economies will continue to slow--and its political influence will become negligible. This doesn't mean that Italy, Germany, France, and other now-prosperous countries will become poor; their standard of living will remain comfortable. But they will become largely irrelevant on the world scene. In The Future of Europe, Alesina and Giavazzi (themselves Europeans) outline the steps that Europe must take to prevent its economic and political eclipse.Europe, the authors say, has much to learn from the market liberalism of America. Europeans work less and vacation more than Americans; they value job stability and security above all. Americans, Alesina and Giavazzi argue, work harder and longer and are more willing to endure the ups and downs of a market economy. Europeans prize their welfare states; Americans abhor government spending. America is a melting pot; European countries--witness the November 2005 unrest in France--have trouble absorbing their immigrant populations. If Europe is to arrest its decline, Alesina and Giavazzi warn, it needs to adopt something closer to the American free-market model for dealing with these issues.Alesina and Giavazzi's prescriptions for how Europe should handle worker productivity, labor market regulation, globalization, support for higher education and technology research, fiscal policy, and its multiethnic societies are sure to stir controversy, as will their eye-opening view of the European Union and the euro. But their wake-up call will ring loud and clear for anyone concerned about the future of Europe and the global economy.

The authors of this timely and provocative book use the tools of economic analysis to examine the formation and change of political borders. They argue that while these issues have always been at the core of historical analysis, international economists have tended to regard the size of a country as "exogenous," or no more subject to explanation than the location of a mountain range or the course of a river. Alesina and Spolaore consider a country's borders to be subject to the same analysis as any other man-made institution. In The Size of Nations, they argue that the optimal size of a country is determined by a cost-benefit trade-off between the benefits of size and the costs of heterogeneity. In a large country, per capita costs may be low, but the heterogeneous preferences of a large population make it hard to deliver services and formulate policy. Smaller countries may find it easier to respond to citizen preferences in a democratic way.Alesina and Spolaore substantiate their analysis with simple analytical models that show how the patterns of globalization, international conflict, and democratization of the last two hundred years can explain patterns of state formation. Their aim is not only "normative" but also "positive" -- that is, not only to compute the optimal size of a state in theory but also to explain the phenomenon of country size in reality. They argue that the complexity of real world conditions does not preclude a systematic analysis, and that such an analysis, synthesizing economics, political science, and history, can help us understand real world events.

The relationship between political and economic cycles is one of the most widely studied topics in political economics. This book examines how electoral laws, the timing of elections, the ideological orientation of governments, and the nature of competition between political parties influence unemployment, economic growth, inflation, and monetary and fiscal policy. The book presents both a thorough overview of the theoretical literature and a vast amount of empirical evidence.

A common belief is that voters reward incumbents who artificially create favorable conditions before an election, even though the economy may take a turn for the worse immediately thereafter. The authors argue that the dynamics of political cycles are far more complex. In their review of the main theoretical approaches to the issues, they demonstrate the multifaceted relationships between macroeconomic and political policies. They also present a broad range of empirical data, from the United States as well as OECD countries. One of their most striking findings is that the United States is not exceptional; the relationships between political and economic cycles are remarkably similar in other democracies, particularly those with two-party systems.

Titles by This Editor

The Case of Colombia
Edited by Alberto Alesina

These studies of Colombian economic, political, and social institutions offer not only theoretically grounded analyses but also practical recommendations for policy reform. Experts from the United States, Europe, and Colombia approach such problems as executive-legislative branch conflict, fragmented political parties, crime prevention, inefficient decentralization, and mistargeted social spending from a political economics perspective. Their findings provide an illuminating example of the way ideas from this relatively new area of research can be applied to real-world problems.

Colombia suffers not only from institutional problems—many of which may stem from its overly rigid 1991 constitution—but also high rates of violent crime, endemic drug trafficking, guerrilla warfare, and political corruption; the authors do not shrink from these topics, but treat them for the most part from an institutional perspective. Following a useful overview of recent economic history in Colombia, three chapters examine political institutions, discussing separation of powers, Colombia's complicated electoral and political party system, and reform of the judicial system. The remaining chapters treat economic and social institutions, covering the fiscal imbalance of centralized taxing and decentralized spending, transparent and fiscally responsible budget processes, education reform, the provision of social services, and the advantages of an independent central bank. Each chapter includes specific policy proposals that are politically feasible and require minimal legislative action. The proposed solutions to Colombia's institutional problems also shed light on similar problems in other developing countries.