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Public economics lectures

Lectures on public economics are given each year by economists at IFS. They cover a wide range of topics within public economics. Each lecture addresses one key issue, showing how economic theory is useful in understanding the issue, discusses reasons that policymakers are interested in this area, and explores new research and empirical evidence that sheds light on each area.

The lectures are aimed at final year undergraduates studying economics, but should be useful for students interested in these topics at lower and higher levels. Each lecture is recorded and slides and a recommended reading list accompanies each lecture. These lectures were recorded at the IFS public economics day in January 2019.

Lectures


How do taxes and benefits affect labour supply, and how do we know?

This lecture discusses how tax and benefit policy affects people's labour supply choices and government revenue, particularly focusing on the methods economists use to estimate these impacts. It also covers the way in which taxes, benefits, and labour supply play into important policy debates.

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Income inequality: how has it changed, why and should governments care?

This lecture explains several reasons why governments may wish to influence income inequality and that appropriate policy responses differ between these reasons. It provides an overview of key trends in inequality at the national and global scale and summarises evidence on their causes. 

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The economics of early childhood development

This lecture analyses arguments for public investment in early child development. Through a simple model of human capital development it discusses the trade-offs governments face deciding the optimal time to invest, and the ways econometric methods are used to match theory to data and inform public policy.

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How can taxes be designed to discourage socially harmful behaviour?

This lecture explains why we might want to use corrective taxation to discourage socially harmful consumption, and how such taxes should be set. It considers some of the challenges of implementing corrective taxes and explains how we can use economic theory and empirical analysis to tackle these issues and to help guide better corrective tax design.

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How about VAT? The taxation of goods and services

Taxes on goods and services – or ‘indirect taxes’ – provide around a third of the UK government’s tax revenues and have a substantial impact on household purchasing power and consumption choices. This lecture explains the importance of indirect taxes for public policy, why value-added tax (VAT) has spread to 166 countries in 60 years, and discusses whether different goods and services should face different tax rates.

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Health, social insurance and the role of the state

This lecture first considers why economists care about health and health care, before discussing the economic rationale for government intervention in health care markets. It then explores the broader role of the state in insuring people against risks, with a particular focus on the ongoing policy debate over the social care funding system.

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The ageing population and pensions: will we cope?

This lecture looks at the impact of demographic change on pension systems. We look at the ways in which increased longevity poses challenges for pensions, and what the government has done in response. We use the tools of economic analysis to assess the implications for individuals seeking to provide for their retirement.

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