Public Finance

3rd Edition

A Normative Theory

Authors: Richard Tresch
Hardcover ISBN: 9780124158344
eBook ISBN: 9780124160330
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 1st November 2014
Page Count: 534
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Public Finance remains the premier textbook on the normative theory of government policy, with the third edition propelling into the twenty-first century its examination of what government ought to be doing instead of what it is doing.

The welfare aspects of public economics receive extensively renewed examination in this third edition. With four new chapters and other significant revisions, it presents detailed and comprehensive coverage of theoretical literature, empirical work, environmental issues, social insurance, behavioral economics, and international tax issues. With increased emphasis on the European Union, it is rigid enough for use by PhDs while being accessible to students less well trained in math.

Key Features

  • Moves skillfully from explaining normative theory to applying it in mathematically compact and precise terms
  • Adds new chapters on social insurance, medical care, social security pensions, behavioral public economics, and international public finance
  • Includes new pedagogical supplements, including end-of-chapter questions and answers
  • Emphasizes European examples


Advanced undergraduate and graduate students studying public finance and public economics, and more broadly welfare economics.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Part I. Introduction: The Content and Methodology of Public Sector Theory
    • Chapter 1. Introduction to Normative Public Sector Theory
      • The Fundamental Normative Questions
      • Government Expenditure Theory: Philosophical Underpinnings
      • Government Expenditure Theory and Market Failure
      • The Government Sector in the United States
      • The Theory of Taxation
      • Fiscal Federalism
      • The Theory of Public Choice
      • Behavioral Public Finance
      • Summary
    • Chapter 2. A General Equilibrium Model for Public Sector Analysis
      • A Baseline General Equilibrium Model
      • Efficiency: The Pareto-Optimal Conditions
      • Equity: The Social Welfare Function and the Optimal Distribution of Income
      • Maximizing Social Welfare
      • Policy Implications and Conclusions
    • Chapter 3. First-Best and Second-Best Analyses and the Political Economy of Public Sector Economics
      • Lump-Sum Redistributions and Public Sector Theory
      • First-Best Analysis
      • Second-Best Analysis
      • Similarities Between First-Best and Second-Best Analyses
      • The Political Economy of the Social Welfare Function
      • Conclusion
  • Part II. The Theory of Public Expenditures and Taxation: First-Best Analysis
    • Introduction
    • Chapter 4. The Social Welfare Function in Policy Analysis
      • Social Welfare and the Distribution of Income: The Atkinson Framework
      • Social Welfare and Consumption: The Jorgenson Analysis
      • Social Welfare and Social Mobility
    • Chapter 5. The Problem of Externalities—An Overview
      • Policy-Relevant Externalities
      • The Analysis of Externalities: Modeling Preliminaries
    • Chapter 6. Consumption Externalities
      • How Bad Can Externalities Be?
      • The Worst of All Worlds—All Goods (Factors) Are Pure Public Goods (Factors)</


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About the Author

Richard Tresch

Professor Richard W. Tresch earned a bachelor's degree from Williams College in 1965 and a doctorate in economics in 1973 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a teaching assistant prior to his arrival at Boston College. He joined the Boston College faculty in 1969 and throughout his 43-year career has served as Chairman of the Department of Economics, Director of Graduate Studies, and Director of Undergraduate Studies. In 1996, chosen as Massachusetts Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He was one of 585 national entrants in the foundation's US Professors of the Year Program, which salutes outstanding undergraduate instructors; its award is recognized as one of the most prestigious honors bestowed upon professors. "I am quite humbled by the award, and extremely grateful to the Carnegie Foundation," Tresch said. "The greatest honor, however, is to have been nominated by Boston College. There are so many good teachers here and to be chosen to represent them in the program is something I truly value." A member of the American Economic Association, Tresch served on the board of editors for the American Economic Review, and has contributed to New England Journal of Business and Economics and Public Finance. He is the editor of a four-volume major reference work on public sector economics. The third edition on his textbook, Public Finance: A Normative Theory publishes in November, 2014.

Affiliations and Expertise

Boston College, Massachusetts, U.S.A.


"Richard Tresch’s graduate textbook, Public Finance, A Normative Theory, has become the standard reference for graduate courses in public economics.  He has now updated the textbook, with the same clear, informative, and illuminating writing, while maintaining the high level of rigor of the previous editions.  The revised textbook contains many new and useful insights.  I look forward to my continued use of his textbook in my own graduate classes."  --James Alm, Tulane University

"Richard Tresch provides a wonderful graduate textbook that is difficult to top in terms of clarity and accessibility. It combines neat mathematical presentation with lots of intuition."  --Alfons Weichenrieder, Goethe University Frankfurt

"The ideal graduate treatment of public economic theory.  Tresch introduces a general equilibrium model and uses it to solve the classic problems.  He then devotes the majority of the book to theoretically examining problems in the second best context, which is the training that students really need to apply theory to real world policy questions."  --Stephen Ross, University of Connecticut