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Alberto Alesina

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Alberto Alesina
Alesina in 2013
Born(1957-04-29)29 April 1957
Broni, Lombardy, Italy
Died23 May 2020(2020-05-23) (aged 63)
EducationBocconi University
Harvard University
Academic career
InstitutionHarvard University
Political economy
Alma materHarvard University (PhD)
Bocconi University (Laurea)
Jeffrey Sachs[1]
Silvana Tenreyro[2]
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Alberto Francesco Alesina (29 April 1957 – 23 May 2020) was an Italian economist who was the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University from 2003 until his death in 2020.[3] He was known principally as an economist of politics and culture, and was famed for his usage of economic tools to study social and political issues.[4][5] He was described as having “almost single-handedly” established the modern field of political economy, and as a likely contender for the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.[4][6][7]

Background and professional life[edit]

Alberto Alesina was born in Broni in 1957.[6] His father was an engineer and industrial manager, and his mother was a teacher.[6] He attended a classical lyceum in Milan, before enrolling at Bocconi University to study economics and social sciences, where he received a laurea in 1981.[3][6] He then went on to graduate study at Harvard University, where he received a PhD in economics in 1986.[8] His doctoral adviser at Harvard was Jeffrey Sachs.[1]

From 1986 to 1987, Alesina was a postdoctoral fellow in political economy at Carnegie Mellon University.[3] He joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1987, where he was an assistant professor of economics and government between 1987 and 1993, the Paul Sack Associate Professor of Political Economy from 1991 to 1993, a full professor of economics and government from 1993 to 2003, and the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy from 2003 till his death in 2020.[3] He chaired the Department of Economics at Harvard between 2003 and 2006.[9]

Alesina became a research associate at the NBER in 1993, and founded its Political Economy Program in 2006.[10] He was a co-editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics between 1998 and 2004.[8] He was elected a Fellow of the Econometric Society in 2002, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006.[11][12]

Alesina's work covered a variety of topics at the confluence of politics, sociology, and economics, including:

During the Great Recession in Europe, Alesina aroused controversy as an advocate of fiscal austerity.[13][14] He argued that austerity can be expansionary, in situations where government reduction in spending is offset by greater increases in aggregate demand (private consumption, private investment and exports).[15] A credible fiscal consolidation would reduce private actors' uncertainty and lower the risk premium. Assuming that Ricardian equivalence and the permanent income hypothesis hold, actors' expected future wealth would increase and induce them to consume more.[16] In October 2009, Alesina and Silvia Ardagna published "Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending",[17] a widely-cited academic paper aimed at showing that fiscal austerity measures did not hurt economies, and actually helped their recovery.

Alesina’s advocacy of austerity was strongly criticised by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who published "How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled" in the New York Review of Books in June 2013, in which he noted the influence of pro-austerity articles authored by Alesina and his supporters, and described the work of the “Bocconi Boys” as "a full frontal assault on the Keynesian proposition that cutting spending in a weak economy produces further weakness".[18]

More recently, studies by the IMF and others have cast doubt on the methodological underpinning of Alesina's work, and conclude that the evidence is more likely to suggest a contractionary effect of fiscal consolidation.[19][20] However, Alesina along with Francesco Giavazzi and Carlo Favero published counterarguments that suggested some austerity programmes (such as the one in Britain) had produced above-average economic growth and stronger economic performance than had been predicted by the IMF, and argued that spending cuts were a more effective way to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio than tax increases.[21]

On 23 May 2020, while hiking with his wife, Susan, Alesina died; the cause was diagnosed as a heart attack.[22]<ref="HarvardMineo" /> In 2021, Harvard University renamed its Seminar on Political Economy in Alesina's honor.[23]

Selected publications[edit]



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  • 1987. "Macroeconomic Policy in a Two-Party System as a Repeated Game," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 102(3), p pp. 651–678.
  • 1988b. "Macroeconomics and Politics," NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1988, Volume 3, pp. 13–62.
  • 1991. "Why Are Stabilizations Delayed?" (with Allan Drazen), American Economic Review, 81(5), pp. 1170–1188.
  • 1993. "Central Bank Independence and Macroeconomic Performance: Some Comparative Evidence" (with Lawrence H. Summers), Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, 25(2), p pp. 151–162.
  • 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth" (with Dani Rodrik), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 109(2), p pp. 465–490.
  • 1995. "The Political Economy of Budget Deficits" (with Roberto Perotti), IMF Staff Papers, 42(1), pp. pp. 1–31.
  • 1996a. "Political Instability and Economic Growth" (with Sule Özler et al.), Journal of Economic Growth, 1(2), p pp. 189–211
  • 1996b. "Income Distribution, Political Instability, and Investment," (with Roberto Perotti), European Economic Review, 40(6), pp. 1203–1228. Abstract.
  • 1997. "On the Number and Size of Nations" (with Enrico Spolaore), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112(4), p pp. 1027–1056.
  • 1999. "Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions" (with Reza Baqir & William Easterly), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(4), pp. 1243–1284. [permanent dead link]
  • 2000a. "Who Gives Foreign Aid to Whom and Why?" (with David Dollar), Journal of Economic Growth, 5(1), p pp. 33–63.
  • 2000b. "Participation in Heterogeneous Communities" (with Eliana La Ferrara), Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(3), p pp. 847–904.
  • 2002a. "Who Trusts Others?" Journal of Public Economics, 85(2), pp. 207–234 (close Pages tab).
  • 2002b. "Fiscal Policy, Profits, and Investment" (with Silvia Ardagna et al.), American Economic Review, 92(3), pp. 571–589. Archived 7 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  • 2003. "Fractionalization" (with Arnaud Devleeschauwer et al.), Journal of Economic Growth, 8(2), p pp. 155–194.
  • 2004. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?" (with Rafael Di Tellab and Robert MacCulloch), Journal of Public Economics, 88(9–10), pp. 2009–2042 (close Bookmarks tab).
  • 2005a. "International Unions" (with Ignazio Angeloni and Federico Etro), American Economic Review, 95(3), p pp. 602–615.
  • 2005b. "Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance" (with Eliana La Ferrara), Journal of Economic Literature, 43(3), pp. 762–800.
  • 2007:3. "Political Economy," NBER Reporter, pp. 1–5 (press +).
  • 2010. "Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes versus Spending" (with Silvia Ardagna), in J. R. Brown, ed., Tax Policy and the Economy, v. 24, ch. 2, pp. 35–68. doi:10.1086/649828
  • 2013. "On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough" (with Paola Giuliano and Nathan Nunn), Quarterly Journal of Economics. 2013; 128 (2) : 469–530.
  • 2015. "The Output Effect of Fiscal Consolidations" (with Carlo Favero and Francesco Giavazzi), Journal of International Economics, vol 96, pages S19-S42. doi:10.1016/j.jinteco.2014.11.003
  • 2016. "Ethnic Inequality" (with Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannou), Journal of Political Economy, vol. 124(2), pages 428-488 doi:10.1086/685300
  • 2016. "Birthplace Diversity and Economic Prosperity" (with Johann Harnoss and Hillel Rapoport), Journal of Economic Growth, vol. 21(2), pages 101-138 doi:10.1007/s10887-016-9127-6


  1. ^ a b "Alberto Alesina, economist, 1957-2020". Financial Times. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  2. ^ "Silvana Tenreyro awarded the Carl Menger Prize". Deutsche Bundesbank. 3 September 2018. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  3. ^ a b c d https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/alesina/files/cv_may_2020.pdf
  4. ^ a b Mineo, Liz (27 May 2020). "Recalling a pioneer of modern political economy". Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  5. ^ "The legacy of Alberto Alesina". The Economist. 28 May 2020. Archived from the original on 10 January 2024.
  6. ^ a b c d Vindigni, Andrea (September 2023). "Alberto Alesina (1957-2020): Man, Researcher, Professor of Economics, Popularizer". IZA Discussion Paper Series (16486).
  7. ^ Gopinath, Gita (June 2020). "Tribute to Alberto Alesina (1957-2020)". International Monetary Fund.
  8. ^ a b Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (2 February 2022). "Alberto Francesco Alesina, 63". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  9. ^ Mineo, Liz (27 May 2020). "Recalling a pioneer of modern political economy". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 24 October 2020.
  10. ^ Trebbi, Francesco; Washington, Ebonya L (31 March 2023). "Program Report: Political Economy, 2023". National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved 11 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Memoriam". The Econometric Society. Retrieved 14 January 2024.
  12. ^ "Alberto Alesina". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. July 2023. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  13. ^ Helgadóttir, Oddný (15 March 2016). "The Bocconi boys go to Brussels: Italian economic ideas, professional networks and European austerity". Journal of European Public Policy. 23 (3): 392–409. doi:10.1080/13501763.2015.1106573. ISSN 1350-1763. S2CID 155917559.
  14. ^ Farrell, Henry; Quiggin, John (2017). "Consensus, Dissensus, and Economic Ideas: Economic Crisis and the Rise and Fall of Keynesianism". International Studies Quarterly. 61 (2): 269–283. doi:10.1093/isq/sqx010. ISSN 0020-8833.
  15. ^ Alesina, Alberto; Favero, Carlo; Giavazzi, Francesco (2019). Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn't. Princeton University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-691-17221-7. JSTOR j.ctvc77f4b.
  16. ^ Carlin, Wendy; Soskice, David (2014). Macroeconomics:Institutions, instability, and the financial system. USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 528–530.
  17. ^ Alesina, Alberto F.; Ardagna, Silvia (October 2009). "Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending". NBER Working Paper No. 15438. CiteSeerX doi:10.3386/w15438.
  18. ^ Krugman, Paul (6 June 2013). "How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled". The New York Review.
  19. ^ Devries, Pete; Guajardo, Jaime; Leigh, Daniel; Pescatori, Andrea (2011). "A New Action-Based Dataset of Fiscal Consolidation". IMF Working Paper. 128 (11). SSRN 1861798.
  20. ^ Imported flagship issuesIMF Archived 8 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Alesina, Alberto; Favero, Carlo A; Giavazzi, Francesco (March 2018). "Improving Economic Growth: Cut Spending or Raise Taxes? - IMF F&D Magazine". IMF. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  22. ^ "È morto Alberto Alesina, economista italiano che ha conquistato Harward". la Repubblica (in Italian). 24 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Seminar Series: Alberto Alesina Seminar on Political Economy". Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Retrieved 9 November 2021.

External links[edit]