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Thread: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

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    econ scholar dogbones's Avatar
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    Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

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    Hi there, I was wondering if some people could distinguish between several very similar sounding subfields within Economics? They are:

    - Economic policy
    - Public economics
    - Political economics
    - Public policy

    I've seen all of them used as areas of specialization for economists working in academia. The nuances I'm supposing are palpable and distinct, but I'm not quite positive.

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    There are only two sub-fields of economics on your list. Public Economics and Political Economy.

    Public economics is the field of economics that studies government's role in the economy. As an example, what are the welfare effects of taxes, subsidies, and economic legislation?

    Political economy is the study of the interaction between the economy and legal and social institutions. As an example, does democracy affect the economy and/or does economic inequality affect democracy?

    Economic policy, to me, is the set of policy prescriptions that comes from economic research (Research shows X is associated with Y, if you like Y policy should do more X). It is something that can be an outcome of any field - labor, health, and so on. Public Policy is more of an art, it's the process of how ideas (such as, but not limited to economic policy suggestions) actually become policy. Degree programs in public policy study that process from both theoretical and practical viewpoints.

    HTH

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    tm_member: I really appreciate your feedback on this clarification! Now I have a solid understanding of both economic policy and public policy. The distinction between public economics and political economy is still a little hazy. If I wanted to write a paper about whether a certain state in the US should expand their rail transport route and I studied that with econometrics, would that be neither public economics nor political economy?

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogbones View Post
    tm_member: I really appreciate your feedback on this clarification! Now I have a solid understanding of both economic policy and public policy. The distinction between public economics and political economy is still a little hazy. If I wanted to write a paper about whether a certain state in the US should expand their rail transport route and I studied that with econometrics, would that be neither public economics nor political economy?
    It would not be political economy. It might be public, or in some places it might be transportation economics or urban economics.

    Political economy might arise in a study of why some states expanded rail and others didn't.

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    startz: Now I'm thinking that urban economics is more my cup of tea than political economy or public economics. Paul Krugman does urban economics too doesn't he?

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogbones View Post
    startz: Now I'm thinking that urban economics is more my cup of tea than political economy or public economics. Paul Krugman does urban economics too doesn't he?
    I don't think he does it anymore, but he did. He has a very readable book Geography and Trade.

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    startz: I just purchased a used version of Geography and Trade by Krugman on Amazon. Thanks for the tip! I love to read books.

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogbones View Post
    tm_member: I really appreciate your feedback on this clarification! Now I have a solid understanding of both economic policy and public policy. The distinction between public economics and political economy is still a little hazy. If I wanted to write a paper about whether a certain state in the US should expand their rail transport route and I studied that with econometrics, would that be neither public economics nor political economy?
    If you want to write speculative policy proposal pieces, do an MPP and work in government.

    PhDs in Economics teach historiographical research methods - "when some state did (or did not) expand their rail network, what happened to X, Y, or Z?" If X is a health outcome, then it's a health paper. If Y is wages, then it's a labor paper. If Z is house prices, it's an urban/regional paper, and so on. Few outlets in economics will publish the kind of paper you described. That kind of work is more suited to a government report.

    Political economy would be the study of how social and political institutions affected the ability of political and private actors to expand the rail network. For example, "Do state constitutions constrain transportation investment via debt rules?"

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    tm_member: So you're saying that political economy is always positive and never normative? Are there any subfields in Economics where I can make analyses like the ideal amount of something that benefits society? How about Econometrics where I use math?

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    Re: Difference between Economic Policy & Public Economics?

    Quote Originally Posted by dogbones View Post
    tm_member: So you're saying that political economy is always positive and never normative? Are there any subfields in Economics where I can make analyses like the ideal amount of something that benefits society? How about Econometrics where I use math?
    dogbones: Most subfields of economics make analyses about what's ideal. And almost all areas of economics use math. Econometrics is widely used across many areas.

    Your questions come across as being from someone with a keen interest in the subject but no idea of what the serious study of economics is about. That's not a criticism as were all there at some point, but you might get more helpful answers if you explained about your background and told us where you are trying to get to.

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