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Positive public economics: reinterpreting ‘optimal’ policies

Brian Albrecht

Journal of Economic Methodology, 2017, vol. 24, issue 1, 90-103

Abstract: The standard positive/normative divide fails to capture the way economists use ‘optimal’ taxation models. This paper argues that the better way to understand public economics is through a three-part division between positive, normative, and instrumental models. An instrumental model is about means and ends. Once this additional dimension is acknowledged, one can see that ‘optimal’ taxation models are closely connected to what are generally seen as purely positive models. I argue that economists have been using similar standards to assess ‘optimal’ taxation models as they use to assess positive models. Recent advances in optimal taxation theory have embraced the positive aspects of models, even about social welfare functions, something that is generally classified as a normative.

Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1080/1350178X.2017.1279741

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