Public Choice

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

M/E for Year 1 MPA and 1YMAPP students (they have to complete 2 credits of either this or Public Sector Economics (2) or Labour and Population Policy (2) or Macroeconomics and Public Finance (4) or Institutions Culture and Development (2)

Elective course for Year 2 MPA and Mundus MAPP

Governance specialization

This course provides an overview of the public choice literature, covering the field's foundational texts up to modern theoretical and empirical advances. Also known as the rational choice approach to politics, public choice uses microeconomics to analyze the decision making of political actors (voters, politicians, interest groups, bureaucrats). In the public choice tradition, actors in the political arena are assumed to be self-interested and public policies are characterized as equilibria that emerge from some political process in which actors follow their self-interest. The political process itself is determined by political and legal institutions that set the rules of the "political game" and affect how individual actors behave and what are the equilibrium outcomes. Indeed, the field of Public Choice is now more relevant than ever, as we grapple with the emergence of extreme public policies and realize the urgency to understand how political institutions can constrain policy-makers whose actions seem increasingly at odds with the public interest. The course is broken up into four main areas of analysis: (i) elections and public policy outcomes, (ii) special interest groups and public policy outcomes, (iii) constitutions and comparative political institutions, (iv) globalization and domestic politics. The course sessions will be interactive lectures, encouraging critical reflection on assigned readings, completion of additional analytical exercises, presentation of student work, and exploration of related research topics.


Learning Outcomes: 
  • Understand political actions and political processes through the lens of microeconomic theory
  • Critical examination of how public policies are the product of political competition between self-interested political actors
  • Understand how the outcome of political processes depends on the political institutions in which the processes are embedded
  • Economically analyze how political institutions may be optimally constructed from the public's point of view
  • Exposure to some frontier research in public choice and development of capacity to formulate research questions in the field of public choice
  • Strengthen analytical economic skills by covering a range of applied microeconomic models

Student grades will be determined by performance on critical written reviews of selected reading materials, contributions to classroom discussions, and a take-home final exam.


The course will be taught at the level of intermediate microeconomics, so students are required to have completed at least one previous course in microeconomics to be eligible for registration.