Seminar in Public Finance, Expenditures, & Taxation

Dr. Satya J. Gabriel
Associate Professor of Economics
FAX: 413-538-2512




This course aims to provide students with the opportunity to discuss the complex theoretical and empirical issues and problems of public finance.  Public finance is that subfield of economics that deals with the effects of government policy (in particular taxing of economic agents, spending of social resources to meet specific objectives, and financing of government debt) upon the overall economic, social, and institutional environment of a particular nation.  Government policies are not like those of corporations or any other private institution of a society.  Governments have unusual power, in that government has final say about the rules of contracts, resource allocation, and all manner of other social behaviors.  Thus, the study of the economic impact of governmental decisions related to taxation, spending of social resources, and financing (whether in the form of debt or equity in state-owned enterprises) is no minor matter.  In addition, economic and social crisis can result from policy decisions involving public budgeting, financing, and taxation.  The decisions of economic agents are shaped, not only by the legally enforceable "rules of the economic game," but also by the macroeconomic environment generated from government decisions in public finance.  This course is designed to provide students with the tools to analyze these public finance decisions and to have a better sense of the social implications of such decisions.  Students in this "speaking intensive" seminar are expected to debate a range of controversial arguments, hypotheses, and empirical presentations relevant to making sense of the state of public finance today.  As a seminar course, it is expected that students will come to this debate with a strong preparation in intermediate microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, as well as some familiarity with issues of economic growth and development.  As a speaking intensive course, students are required to not only participate in these debates but, on occasion, to take the lead in organizing the debates and to present their own unique research thesis to the class.  Students who do not fully understand the implications of taking a speaking intensive seminar should get in touch with the professor ASAP.


Among the objectives of this course is to encourage students to think analytically, to recognize the components of constructing a theory (concepts, logic, coherence), and to develop their skill at producing effective spoken arguments. These skills are valuable in the academic endeavor, in general, and to the study of economics, in particular.

Analytical Speaking Assignments:

The grade for this course depends on the quality of each studentís work on the following assignments:  leading debate over a specific issue (30%), presentation of research thesis (40%), presentation of a web page related to the thesis or other topic (20%), and participation in classroom discussions and debates beyond those for which the student takes primary responsibility (10%).

Students will be evaluated on the basis of the thoughtfulness and depth of understanding indicated by their oral presentations.  Students should not expect to obtain dispensations for arguing that their oral presentations did not capture the "hard work" put into their research effort. Every presentation, every moment of leadership of a debate, stands as the testimony to the quality and quantity of the student's effort. By necessity, spoken presentations are accompanied by written work.  The student's written work may be presented using any multimedia technology deemed (by the student) to be appropriate to effectively communicating her argument.  The web page may be presented in conjunction with the research thesis or it may simply be communicated to the other students (and the professor) during the normal course of classroom discussion and debate.  Note that exceptional web pages may be chosen for permanent attachment (as links) to this course web page (and saved in the same web directory).  Any student who has reasons to not want her name attached to such links (as author) should get in touch with the professor in the first two weeks of the course.

Course calendar

Jan. 31

Course introduction.

Feb. 7
Web Readings

Mike Huben's Critiques of Libertarianism

David Friedman's Libertarian Response to Mike Huben

Feb. 14
"Early Modern Theories of State Finance," by Richard Bonney (RP)
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Heather Warner and C. Davis Fischer

Feb. 21
"Guarding the Commanding heights: The State as Banker in Taiwan," by Tun-jen Cheng (RP); "Reform and the Market Economy and Tax in China," by Xu Shanda and Ma Lin (RP); and, "Unifying the Enterprise Income Tax and Reforming Profit Distribution Between Government and State-Owned Enterprises," by Shi Yaobin (RP)
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Alex Kamunya

Feb. 28
"Taxation of Income and Wealth," "Taxation of Consumption," and "Taxation of Exports and Natural Resources," by Richard Goode (RP)
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Katie Corlett, Adrienne Pancoe, and Jenna Beckman

March 6
"Public Finance, Trade and Development: What Have We Learned?" by Johannes F. Linn and Deborah L. Wetzel; "Tax Structure, Trade Taxes, and Economic Development: An Empirical Investigation," by Theo Hitiris; and, "The Role of Export Taxes," by Juan Carlos Gomez-Sabaini
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Lori Friedenberg, LeeAnn Pasquini, and Katherine Peterson

March 20
Rebecca Blank's It Takes a Nation
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Carrie Alme and Michelle Greenblatt

March 27
"The Polish Government Stabilization and Sustainability," by Alain de Crombrugghe, and, "Comments on de Crombrugghe," by Marek Dabrowski; and, "The Political Economy of Fiscal Policy in the Republic of Korea: Consensus Seeking under the Strategy of Export-Oriented Industrialization," by Byung-Kwon Cha, Dong-Kun Kim, and Chon-Pyo Lee (RP)
Debate/Discussion Coordinators: Melissa Singer and Rachel Meyer

Student Presentations of Semester Research Theses
April 3rd:   Heather Warner, Michelle Greenblatt, and Jenna Beckman
April 10th: Leah Kane, Katie Corlett, Kate Peterson, and Lori Friedenberg
April 17th: LeeAnn Pasquini, Melissa Singer, and C. Davis Fischer
April 24th: Rachel Meyer, Adrienne Pancoe, and Carrie Alme

Lori Friedenberg, Guns, Butter, and Vietnam Finance
Catherine A. Corlett, Election Funding in Modern Democracies
C. Davis Fischer, External Debt and Structural Adjustment Programs
Michelle Greenblatt, web site on The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996

Research Links

Copyright © 2000, Satya Gabriel, Economics Department, Mount Holyoke College.