Public Choice Theory

School: School of Government and Society
Department: Department of Political Science and International Studies

Level: Second Year (LI) Undergraduate
Credits: 20
Semester: 1 and 2
Contact hours: Lectures: 20 hours; Seminars: 20 hours; Guided independant study: 160 hours
Module Co-ordinator: Dr Peter Watt

This module is a basic introduction to public choice theory. It provides an economic analysis of the reasons for the existence of the public sector, and uses a few elementary economic concepts to analyse some key questions concerning central and local government action. Why might it be rational to be ignorant of parties’ policies in an election? How instructive is it to regard politicians as being akin to firms, but maximising votes instead of profits? Why does income redistribution often flow from the poor to the rich instead of the other way? What motivates bureaucrats? How can the relationship between collective and individual interests be analysed through game theory?

Learning outcomes

Students successfully completing this module will be expected to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the basic elements of Public Choice theory and how to apply economic reasoning and analysis to issues of government intervention
  • demonstrate a knowledge of some elementary concepts and examples of game theory, collective action and voting theory as applied to the analysis of government
  • understand generally how political issues and actions can be analysed in economic terms.


  • 2 x 2000 words assessed work  = 90%
  • 1 x oral contributions to seminars 10%

Related courses:

The modules listed on the website for this programme are regularly reviewed to ensure they are up-to-date and informed by the latest research and teaching methods. Unless indicated otherwise, the modules listed for this programme are for students starting in 2018. On rare occasions, we may need to make unexpected changes to compulsory modules; in this event we will contact offer holders as soon as possible to inform or consult them as appropriate.