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Updated A.Y. 2023-2024


This course is composed of two parts:

Module 1

  • Political Economics: public policy formation, political processes, and political institutions from a rational choice perspective.

Module 2

  • Public Economics: public good and common resources, the principles of optimal taxation on income and commodities, provision of public good (equity and efficiency). Basics of procurement and auction theory.

Course prerequisites

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). The first class is devoted to review some of these tools. An introductory course in public finance is useful but not necessary. In the second module the main tool of analysis will be the revelation principle, and students are advised to study it beforehand.

Final Exam

The final exam is a three-hours written test consisting of six questions, as follows. Three questions from Module 1 (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), and three questions from Module 2 (3 open questions or mathematical exercises). Within each question there might be a choice of "subquestions". To pass the exam, students need to obtain a pass (i.e., an average grade of 18) in each module. The final mark for the exam is given by the average mark of the two modules. 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 questions perfectly.

At the end of each module, students who attend the course can volunteer to give a presentation. Each presentation will be given a mark from 0 to +3, which is added to the mark of the first exam session (and midterm) 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 each module there is a midterm exam, the results of which are registered in the Summer exam (if both grades are available). 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 graded outcome will be registered.


Module 1


This course examines public policy formation, political processes, and political institutions from a rational choice perspective. 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. 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.

Required Text and Readings

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.


Classes will be held in room P4, 1st floor, building A. Any eventual change will be posted on the course web page.

Course Web Page

The material for this course (syllabus, notes, announcements, materials) will be posted on the course webpage.

Outline of the course

  • Foundations and review: individual rationality, game theory, econometrics
  • Preference aggregation: Arrow's impossibility theorem, median voter model
  • Voting: multidimensionality, agenda setting, strategic voting, the paradox of voting
  • Electoral competition: Downsian model, probabilistic voting, partisan candidates, citizen-candidate model
  • Political agency: accountability, term limit, incumbency advantage
  • Legislative organization: presidential vs. parliamentary, committees, electoral rules, coalition governments
  • Bureaucracy: budget maximizing bureau, congressional dominance
  • Special interest politics: interest groups, rent-seeking


In the following pages you will find the detailed reading list for each topic. This list is indicative, and can be subject to some changes. In particular, further readings may be provided during the lectures. Readings marked with a * represent compulsory reading, all other readings are just suggestions.

  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”

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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


  1. 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

  1. 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 *

  1. 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


Module 2



Detailed understanding of the provision of public good and its implications in terms of efficiency and equity. Principles of optimal income and commodity taxation in competitive market and under market power. The course also focuses on the role and use of common resources.

It is expected that the students will learn an analytical approach to the economic issues. This first module will help strengthen and ease the analysis of the second cycle of courses and make students able to develop and/or implement original ideas, potentially with original research in mind. 

Course schedule

Please note that the dates on which material will be covered are approximate. Total 10 classes for a total of 36 hours. Classes will begin promptly; there will be a break of approximately 10-15 minutes, at an appropriate point towards the mid-point of the class.


The program of the course will touch the following topics:

Classic Public Economics

  • Theories of the Public Sector
  • Public goods and their Public provision
  • Externalities
  • Tax Models

Optimal commodity taxation

  • Optimal income taxation


Basics of Public Procurement


  • What is public procurement
  • Competitive procedures
  • Auction and scoring rules
  • Rules, Discretion, Quality and Corruption
  • Past Performance and Competence





Main references


The first part of the course will be based on Intermediate Public Economics, Hindriks & Myles (Ch 2nd Edition, 2013).

The second part will be based on the Handbook of Procurement, Piga G., Spagnolo G. and Dimitri N. Editors, CUP 2006.


Additional material, papers and further readings will be indicated in the lectures.

Course Web Page

The additional material for this course will be posted on the course page.