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Unit information: The Economics of Public Policy in 2018/19

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Unit name The Economics of Public Policy
Unit code SPOLM1062
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Yiming Wang
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit examines key ideas from mainstream economics, their relevance to public policy and their application to public policy analysis. The unit also introduces alternative perspectives such as behavioural and institutional economics to complement the mainstream approach. The specific topics covered in the unit include, but are not limited to, the welfare economics of market intervention, the economic critique of government, the marketisation of public services, the ethics and economics of public policy, and the application of economic thinking to practical public policy issues, such as transport infrastructure and land value, financialisation of the housing market and global warming/climate change. The unit seeks to set the economic approach to policy alongside other criteria that could be used to inform thinking about public policy.

Intended learning outcomes

  • Understand a selection of concepts that are key to the mainstream economic approach and an institutional approach to policy.
  • Identify key differences in the approach that mainstream and institutional economics take to assess policy issues.
  • Apply economic reasoning to practical public policy contexts
  • Compare the economic approach to policy with other criteria that could inform policy thinking.

Teaching details

This unit will be delivered in sessions of 2 hours. Some sessions consist of introductory lectures while others are organised as policy seminars made up of student presentations, discussions and debates.

Assessment Details

Students will complete one 4,000 word written assignment through which they will demonstrate an understanding of (i) concepts that are key to an economic approach to policy (ii) how an economic approach can be applied in practical public policy contexts and (iii) what sort of evaluative criteria the economic approach to policy uses and how that compares with other criteria that could inform policy thinking.

Reading and References

  • Akerlof, G. and R. Shiller (2010). Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, Priceton University Press
  • Krugman, P. and Wells, R. (2013) Economics, 3rd ed, Macmillan
  • Le Grand, J. Propper, C. and Smith, S. (2008) The Economics of Social Problems, 4th ed, Basingstoke: MacMillan
  • Stiglitz, J (2000) Economics of Public Sector, 3rd Ed, Norton
  • Weimer, D and Vining, A. (2005) Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice, 4th Ed, Prentice Hall