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Learning Objectives

The main goal of the course is to introduce the students to the main concepts of Public Choice, with both a theoretical and an empirical approach. The course deals with the theoretical problems related to the behavior of voters and politicians; additionally, it introduces the students to the empirical methodology applied to political economy problems. Particular attention is given to issues related to the electoral competition and bureaucracy.

The final goal is gain a comprehensive knowledge of the political environment from a rational-choice perspective.

The final goal is to gain knowledge of the analytical tools to study and understand the political environment and operate in the field of policy making.

At the end of the course, the student will have acquired the theoretical and methodological tools to analyze and understand the political environment both in its structural characteristics and in its recent developments. She will also have gained familiarity with the tools necessary to design, implement and evaluate public policies.

Students must be able to use the tools learned during the course to interpret the political phenomena.


You need to have covered the material of a good undergraduate economics program: a good working knowledge of intermediate microeconomics (we will make almost no use of macroeconomics) some literacy in mathematics and some knowledge of game theory is necessary, as is a basic understanding of econometrics, at least through multiple regression (you should understand how to interpret regression coefficients and be aware of the possible pitfalls in their use).


A one-term course cannot offer a comprehensive treatment of the complex working of political systems. The emphasis is on introducing some key formal models to simplify and analyze broad classes of situations, like: public policy formation, political processes and political institutions from a rational choice perspective. At the same time, rigorous empirical testing of formal models will be a central component. We will focus on the literature on voting, elections, partisan politics and political agency.


No single textbook covers all the material presented in this course. A number of the recommended readings will consist of journal articles. I will also distribute the slides of each class. The books that will be used more frequently are the following:
- Besley, “Principled Agents?”, Oxford University Press, 2006 (henceforth: Besley)
- Mueller, “Public Choice III”, Cambridge University Press, 2003 (henceforth: Mueller)
- Persson and Tabellini, “Political Economics”, MIT Press, 2000 (henceforth: PT)
All readings are available through the Biblioteca Vilfredo Pareto, located in the building B. Class notes, as well as any other additional material/reading, will be available on the course web page.


1. Review: Individual rationality, Nash equilibrium, Causality in econometrics
Mueller: 1 *
Besley: 1 *
PT: 1 *
Varian, (1992), “Microeconomic Analysis”, 94-102
Turocy and von Stengel (2001), “Game Theory”
Ichino (2007), “The Problem of Causality”
2. Preference aggregation
PT: 2
Ferreira and Gyourko (2009), “Do Political Parties matter? Evidence from U.S. Cities”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 399-422 *
Pettersson-Lidbom (2008), "Do Parties Matter for Economic Outcomes: A Regression-Discontinuity Approach", Journal of the European Economic Association, 1037-1056
3. Voting
Mueller: 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 14
Merlo: 2
Larcinese, Puglisi and Snyder (2011), “Partisan Bias in Economic News: Evidence on the Agenda Setting Behavior of U.S. Newspapers”, Journal of Public Economics, 1178-1189 *
Bernheim, Rangel and Rayo (2006), “The Power of the Last Word in Legislative Policy Making”, Econometrica, 1161-1190
Degan and Merlo (2009), "Do Voters Vote Ideologically?”, The Journal of Economic Theory, 1868-1894
Gentzkow, Shapiro and Sinkinson (2011), "The Effect of Newspaper Entry and Exit on Electoral Politics", American Economic Review, 2980–3018 *
Funk (2010), “Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System”, Journal of the European Economic Association, 1077-1103
4. Electoral competition
PT: 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3
Mueller: 11, 12, 21
Persson and Tabellini (1994), "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?", American Economic Review, 600-621
Alesina and Rodrik (1994), "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth", Quarterly Journal of Economics, 465-90
Perotti (1996). "Growth, Income Distribution, and Democracy: What the Data Say", Journal of Economic Growth, 149-187
Lee, Moretti and Butler (2004), “Do Voters Affect or Elect Policies? Evidence from the U.S. House”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 807-859
Jones and Olken (2005), “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth Since World War II”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 835-864
Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) "Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India", Econometrica, 1409-1443 *
Alesina (1988), “Credibility and Policy Convergence in a Two-Party System with Rational Voters”, American Economic Review, 796-805
Besley and Coate (1997), “An Economic Model of Representative Democracy”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 85-114
Caselli and Morelli (2004), “Bad Politicians”, Journal of Public Economics, 759-782
Meltzer and Richard (1981), “A Rational Theory of the Size of Government”, Journal of Political Economy, 914-927
Hinnerich and Pettersson-Lidbom (2012), “Democracy, Redistribution, and Political Participation: Evidence from Sweden 1919-1938”, mimeo *
Agranov and Palfrey (2013), “Equilibrium Tax Rates and Income Redistribution: A Laboratory Study”, mimeo *
Dal Bò, Finan, Folke, Persson and Rickne (2016), “Who Becomes a Politician?”, mimeo
5. Political agency
Besley: 3
Mueller: 16, 17
Ferraz and Finan (2011a), “Electoral Accountability and Corruption: Evidence from the Audits of Local Governments”, American Economic Review, 1274-1311 *
Besley and Case (1995), “Does Electoral Accountability Affect Economic Policy Choices? Evidence from Gubernatorial Term Limits”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 769-98 *
Ferraz and Finan (2008), “Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil's Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 703-745
Ferraz and Finan (2011b), “Motivating Politicians: The Impacts of Monetary Incentives on Quality and Performance”, mimeo
Gagliarducci and Nannicini (2013), “Do Better Paid Politicians Perform Better? Disentangling Incentives from Selection”, Journal of the European Economic Association, 369-398 *
Gagliarducci, Nannicini and Naticchioni (2010), “Moonlighting Politicians”, Journal of Public Economics, 688-699
Mattozzi and Merlo (2009), “Mediocracy”, mimeo
Diermeier, Keane and Merlo (2005), “A Political Economy Model of Congressional Careers”, American Economic Review, 347-373
Mattozzi and Merlo (2008), “Political Careers or Career Politicians?”, Journal of Public Economics, 597-608
Dal Bò, Dal Bò and Snyder (2009), “Political Dynasties”, Review of Economic Studies, 115-142
List and Sturm (2006), "How Elections Matter: Theory and Evidence from Environmental Policy", Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1249-1281
Bagues and Esteve-Volart (2011), “Politicians’ Luck of the Draw: Evidence from the Spanish Christmas Lottery”, mimeo
Fisman, Harmon, Kamenica and Munk (2015), “Labor Supply of Politicians”, Journal of the European Economic Association
Fisman, Schulz and Vig (2015), “The Private Returns to Public Office”, Journal of Political Economy
6. Legislative organization
Mueller: 17
PT: 10
Merlo: 5
Gagliarducci, Nannicini and Naticchioni (2011), “Electoral Rules and Politicians' Behavior: A Micro Test”, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 144-174 *
Gagliarducci and Paserman (2011), “Gender Differences in Hierarchical Environments: Evidence from the Political Arena”, Review of Economic Studies, 1021-1052
Diermeier, Eraslan and Merlo (2003), “A Structural Model of Government Formation”, Econometrica, 27-70
Myerson (1995), “Analysis of Democratic Institutions: Structure, Conduct and Performance”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 77-89
7. Bureaucracy
Mueller: 16
Pettersson-Lidbom (2012), “Does the Size of the Legislature Affect the Size of Government: Evidence from Two Natural Experiments”, Journal of Public Economics 269-278
Alesina and Tabellini (2007), “Bureaucrats or Politicians? Part I: A Single Policy Task”, American Economic Review, 169-179
Alesina and Tabellini (2008), “Bureaucrats or Politicians? Part II: Multiple Policy Tasks”, Journal of Public Economics, 426-447
Dal Bò, Finan and Rossi (2013), “Strengthening State Capabilities: The Role of Financial Incentives in the Call to Public Service”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1169-1218 *
8. Special interest politics
Mueller: 15, 20
PT: 3.5
Coate and Morris (1995), “On the Form of Transfers in Special Interests”, Journal of Political Economy, 1210‐35 *
Hall and Deardoff (2006), “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy”, American Political Science Review, 69‐84
Mitchell and Munger (1991), “Economic Models of Interest Groups: An Introductory Survey”, American Journal of Political Science, 512‐546

Teaching methods

Lessons and practice in class

Exam Rules

The final exam is a three-hours written test consisting of three questions (2 mathematical exercises, similar but easier than those carried out during the course, and the discussion of an article chosen among those presented in class). Within each question there might be a choice of "subquestions". To pass the exam, students need to obtain a pass (i.e., a grade of 18) in at least two questions. The final mark for the exam is given by the average mark of the three questions, plus the three questions from the Public Economcis course. In each question, the scale of marks goes from 0 to 34, so students can obtain a final mark of 30 even without answering all the questions perfectly. At the end of the module, the students who attended the course can volunteer to give presentations and have their mark added to the mark of the exam. Each presentation will be given a mark from 0 to +3, which is added to the mark of the first exam session after the course only, and rounded to the nearest integer to determine the final mark of the students. Withdrawals from scheduled presentations will be marked with -1. You can only make the presentation once (i.e., you cannot repeat it in the following years). There is one exam in the Summer and one in the Fall term. In the Winter term there are two exams, but you can only sit in one of the two. Additionally, at the end of the module there is a midterm exam, the results of which are registered in the Summer exam (if the grade from the Public Economcis module is also positive). In the Summer exam you can sit for just one or both modules, in which case the corresponding midterm grade (if any) will be discarded. You are allowed to reject a mark (by writing it on Delphi) only in the Summer session and in the midterm. After that, any other exam outcome will be registered.