Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $19.90
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 70%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (13) from $19.90   
  • New (7) from $38.77   
  • Used (6) from $19.90   


Mainstream policy economics now pays more attention to the delivery of policy outcomes and how incentives and institutional change shape the effectiveness of government. But should these issues be studied against a background of purely self-interested public servants? There is plenty of evidence that many citizens are publicly spirited. Can their motivation be harnessed in the public interest? These lectures review how economic thought on these issues has evolved.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"How can democratic competition make a government of politicians act as a government for the people? Tim Besley has given us a broad and deep analysis of this fundamental agency problem which is essential to the theory of democracy. This is an important book for anyone who wants to study political science with the best analytical tools of modern economics."—Roger Myerson, William C. Norby Professor of Economics, University of Chicago

"How does the structure of democratic political institutions and organization shape policy choice? This path-breaking book boldly claims that well-designed institutions can help voters select politicians who are 'better:' more capable and more faithful to the fiduciary duties of public life. Novel in its emphasis on information, this unprecedentedly careful, thorough analysis of the 'agency' problem links voters' ability to screen out bad politicians and discipline rent-seeking with the competence, motivation, and alignment of politicians' preferences to explain a wide variety of political economy and public finance outcomes including debt accumulation, the size and scope of government activities, corruption, and political turnover."—James E. Alt, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University

"A wonderful and important book, that combines state of the art analysis and deep knowledge of real world institutions to obtain novel insights about a fundamental issue. It should be read by all those who want to understand what it is that brings about good government."—Guido Tabellini, Professor of Economics, Bocconi University

"Tim Besley demonstrates how to analyze political agency in the intellectual middle ground left open in between the optimism of the traditional welfare-economics approach, and the pessimism of the traditional public-choice approach. The key to good government is institution design- in the best Federalist tradition- to improve incentives in policymaking and selection to public office. Quite simply, a great book by a great economist."—Torsten Persson, Director of the Institute for International Economic Studies

Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Timothy Besley is Professor of Economics at the LSE and Director of the Suntory Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) at the LSE. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). He has acted as Co-Editor of the American Economic Review and Managing Editor of the Economic Journal. He is an elected member of the Council of the Royal Economic Society, the Econometric Society, and the European Economics Association.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 Competing Views of Government
The issues
This book
Economic Policy Making
Political Economy
Incentives and Selection in Politics
Concluding Comments
2 The Anatomy of Government Failure
Three Notions of Government Failure
The Basic Model
Government Failure
Democratic Political Failures
A Dynamic Model
Government Failure in the Dynamic Model
Responses to Political Failure
Concluding Comments
3 Political Agency and Accountability
Elements of Political Agency Models
The Baseline Model
Concluding Comments
4 Political Agency and Public Finance
The Model
Three Scenarios
Restraining Government
Debt and Deficits
Governments versus NGOs

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)