Public Economics for Research Students

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Johannes Spinnewijn 32L.3.24, Dr Daniel Reck 32L.3.16 and Prof Camille Landais 32L.3.23


This course is available on the MRes/PhD in Economics. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

The course will cover the economics of the public sector, including material on taxation, public expenditures and political economics. The course, which covers both theory and empirics, aims to give students a broad overview of this growing field and bring them to the research frontier.

The specific topics covered may vary from year to year, but the following general areas would typically be included:

  • Income and wealth inequality
  • Behavioural responses to taxes and transfers
  • Optimal taxation
  • Dynamic taxation
  • Behavioural public economics
  • Social insurance
  • Optimal public good provision


30 hours of lectures in the MT. 30 hours of lectures in the LT.

This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 60 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes, live streamed (recorded) lectures, and some flipped content delivered as short online videos.

Formative coursework

Students will discuss papers in lectures.

Indicative reading

Readings will be mainly from journal articles; a list will be supplied at the start of the term. Although the course will not be based on a textbook as such, it will make extensive use of:

  • Handbook of Public Economics Vol. 1-4 (A.J. Auerbach and M. Feldstein, eds.)
  • Lectures in Public Economics, A.B.Atkinson and J.E.Stiglitz, Princeton University Press, 2015.


Problem sets (40%) and exercise (30%) in the MT and LT.
Take-home assessment (30%) in the ST.

The assessment for this course is as follows:

1)    Four problem sets due throughout the MT and LT terms (40%)

2)    An "extended replication exercise" (30%), consisting of:

  • a written referee report on that paper (MT)
  • a replication of a paper (empirical paper or paper based on simulations), (beginning of LT)
  • an extension of that paper (which requires developing a research design, positioning the question of the extension in the literature, etc.), (end of LT, start of ST)

3)    A take-home exam in the ST (30%)

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Economics

Total students 2020/21: 5

Average class size 2020/21: 6

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information