90299 - Public Economics

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Decent work and economic growth Reduced inequalities

Academic Year 2020/2021

Learning outcomes

At the end of the class, student has knowledge of the debate regarding pension’s policy and how it affects individuals, a debate which interests policy and academic audiences. He/she has knowledge of the lifecycle model as a key tool for analysing the issues of interest and for understanding existing analyses. Finally, student knows topical policy questions and the recent contributions to the academic literature about how individuals are affected by, and respond to, public policy.

Course contents

The course focuses on the role for government intervention in the economy (why should government intervene?), and on some principles that might guide the design of economic policy.

As a particular example, the course may consider public policy regarding pensions / social security, and how this affects the decisions of individuals regarding consumption and saving.

Topics may therefore include:

  • Motives for government intervention in the economy
  • Raising government revenue:
    • Optimal income taxation
    • Optimal commodity taxation
  • Pensions and social security
    • How is policy designed
    • How do agents respond to policy interventions


Basic graduate / advanced undergraduate textbooks include:

Gruber, J., Public Finance and Public Policy

Hindriks, J., and Myles G.D., Intermediate Public Economics

A more advanced text is:

Atkinson A. B., and Stiglitz, J. Lectures in Public Economics (revised version from 2015)

The Institute for Fiscal Studies “Mirrlees Review”, and in particular the volume “Tax by Design”, also provides lots of interesting material. This volume is available here: ifs.org.uk/publications/5353

Teaching methods

Traditional lectures led by the course lecturer. Potentially also lessons to work through exercises led by course lecturer.

Students may also be asked to present material to lead discussion on some topics. The feasibility of using such innovative teaching methods may depend on the class size.

Assessment methods

Final written exam of about one or one and a half hours.

During exams students will NOT be allowed to use materials such as: textbooks, lecture notes/slides; any written notes; web-enabled or data storage devices such as computers (laptops or tablets), or smartphones. Candidates found with such items will be removed from the exam and their work will not be marked.

The content and structure of exam questions is intended to assess familiarity with the material covered in the course lectures, and, in particular, to assess understanding of the implications for public economics of the material covered in the course.

Candidates will be required to enroll for exams via the University's electronic service (currently AlmaEsami). Exam marks will be published via the University's electronic service (AlmaEsami). After exams students will be entitled to see their script by attending the lecturer’s office hour.
Students will be allowed to reject their final grade for the course exactly ONCE. When exam results are published, the date by which students must notify the course lecturer of their intention to reject their mark, will be communicated to candidates. Notification of the intention to reject must be sent in writing (by email). After the date specified, marks will be electronically registered (verbalizzato).

Course assessment may also depend on the lecturer’s assessment of student performance in class presentations. Details of this will be provided at the outset of the course.

Any change to assessment in the light of the ongoing health crisis, will be announced in good time.

Teaching tools


Example exercises

Possibly, lecture notes.

Office hours

See the website of Matthew John Wakefield