Tabellini on Alesina
By Alberto Mingardi
Alberto Alesina passed away on Saturday, age 63. May he rest in peace. He was hiking and he had a heart attack. One might say it’s not a bad way to go, for somebody who loved mountains and adventures in the outdoors so much. His is a great loss. He was a young man and certainly still had plenty of great papers and books to write. Many obituaries have been published and virtually all of them emphasize his passion for helping students and co-authors to blossom. A professor’s legacy is his students, and it is clear that Alesina left a great legacy behind.
Guido Tabellini, another great Italian economist and a co-author of Alesina, published an obituary (in English) in the Italian newspaper “Il Foglio”. It is here. Together with an overview of Alesina’s major contributions, it conveys a sense of the two’s friendship.
This may be of particular interest to EconLog’s readers:
The themes he explored in the first phase of his research reflected his Italian background. He grew up in Italy in the 1970s. This was a period of stark ideological and political conflicts, with extreme polarization leading to frequent strikes, left-wing terrorism, capital flight. It was obvious that these conflicts had a large impact on the economy, and yet they were neglected by frontier economic research in the 1980s. Politics was at the heart of the School of Public Choice, but the focus of this line of research was on agency problems, or lobbying by special interests. And macroeconomics was devoted to general equilibrium analysis of representative agent models, where politics did not matter. The main contribution of Alberto’s early work was to show that political conflict has a central role in explaining several macroeconomic phenomena.
In his early work, he took seriously the idea that politicians are also motivated by partisan ideologies, and not only by opportunistic motives. This seems obvious now, but until then politicians were seen as exclusively guided by the desire to win votes, and policy convergence at the election was taken as the norm. He then went on to study how election outcomes affect business fluctuations, and how political polarization and harmful policy divergence are moderated by voters at the elections, or by cooperation between politicians alternating in office.