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Public Policy and Economics

This course is designed and taught by renowned Economist Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St Mary's University and Editorial and Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

This course will feature a series of talks from former leading politicians, policymakers, advisors and civil servants on topics raised in the course including the Chief Economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, former Cabinet Minister Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly, former Director of NIESR Professor Jonathan Portes and Chris Snowden and Dr Stephen Davies from the Insititute of Economic Affairs amongst others.

Academic field trips are also planned to the Houses of Parliament and Hampton Court.

This course will be taught at an intermediate level and is suitable to anyone who is studying or has studied Public Policy, Economics or related disciplines such as Business Studies, Politics, Law or Mathematics at undergraduate level.


Course Aims

The course aims to apply economic principles to public policy making but using a framework based on wider assumptions than those that underpin the traditional way of thinking about such matters in undergraduate economics courses. As such, it will overlap with the discipline of political economy. After taking the course, students will understand public policy problems in the context of neo-classical market failure type models. Students will then be given a grounding in areas of economics for which Nobel Prizes have been awarded in the last 30 years and which provide a wider perspective of public policy issues. This includes public choice economics, Austrian economics and institutional economics. The course also aims to give students the ability to apply the ideas to a set of public policy problems.

Syllabus and Course overview

This course will apply economic principles to public policy. Underlying the course will be the presentation of a set of approaches to economics that differ from the traditional university neo-classical and Keynesian models so that it is possible to have more realistic debates about public policy in the context of these different models. During the course, a series of public policy issues will be examined in each case applying some of the theoretical ideas to the analysis of the policy.

At the beginning of the course, students will be allocated to small groups. Each group will make a 10 minute video or give a 10 minute presentation on a particular public policy topic towards the end of the course. All students should participate in this exercise. For those being assessed, it will make up 40 per cent of the overall assessment.

The topics to be covered include:

  • Theory and general principles
  • History and background - the role of government in the economy in the twentieth century
  • The role of public policy in the neo-classical/market failure model
  • Behavioural economics and public policy
  • Public choice economics - 'the economics of politics' (visit to Houses of Parliament)
  • Interest groups and public policy - the economics of voting and rent seeking
  • Theories of institutional change and economic development
  • Austrian economics and entrepreneurship
  • Monetarism, Keynesianism and Austrian economics - debates about fiscal policy, monetary policy and central banking (visit to the Bank of England)
  • Religion, the state and public policy in Britain (visit to Hampton Court)
  • Islam and public policy: entrepreneurship, the family, civil society, the state and usury
  • The scholastic foundations of economics and public policy

The course will include various case studies taken from the list of topics below:

  • Rent controls
  • The regulation of wages
  • The euro crisis
  • Sin taxes
  • The economics of prisons
  • The financial crisis
  • Institutions, foreign aid and development
  • Modern slavery
  • Pay-as-you-go social security systems - is the West bankrupt?
  • Institutions and the preservation of the environment
  • Healthcare and education – public policy and 'market failure'
  • The economics and political economy of migration
  • Investment, research and development
  • Current debates in trade – the gains from trade and the contrast between free trade, customs unions and trade agreements

Learning outcomes

  • Understand the application of neo-classical market failure models to public policy problems and the difficulties with such models.
  • Understand how economics problems are resolved in theory through political systems.
  • A knowledge of the importance of institutions for economic growth.
  • A knowledge of the importance of entrepreneurship and its relationship with public policy.
  • An understanding of the application of theory to the analysis of specific public policy problems.
  • An understanding of how the political system can work in practice to subvert the implementation of good economic policy.

Course structure

Teaching will be comprised mainly of presentations based on applications. There will also be some small group teaching in the final week. The structure will be::

  • 20-25 hours of lectures
  • 10-15 hours of presentations on case studies and by former leading public policy practitioners
  • 4 hours of seminars in small groups.
  • Three off-site visits relevant to the course.

Students will also be given time each day for independent study. Towards the end of the third week, students will be provided with time for revision.

Course Assessment

The module will be assessed via a 10 minute video or presentation in small groups (worth 40% of the total mark) and a 2-hour examination. It should be noted that the assessment is not compulsory. Everyone who completes the course – whether or not they sit the exam - will receive a certificate of attendance. However, by taking the exam you will also receive a grade/mark for the course which can be helpful to you.

Course Reading list