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Learning Objectives

LEARNING OUTCOMES: 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.

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

APPLYING KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING: 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.

MAKING JUDGEMENTS: 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.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS: 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,
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,
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,
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
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