Class Information

Economics 336: Public Economics II (Public Choice)

2006 Edition (second semester)

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Times and places

Class meets Mondays. 16h00-18h00, Commerce 013

Crampton's office hours: Wednesdays, 10h00-12h00

Tutorial Sessions. Thursday and Friday, 14h00-15h00, Room C540.

Update 7 December 2006

CDF of econ 336 scores

This will be the last update of this page. Over time, link rot will set in, so don't expect that all the links will continue working forever. I'm not going to be going back and fixing things as this happens. The url for this page will eventually be migrated to 336-2006.html in order to make room for next year's version of the site. The cumulative frequency distribution of grades for the course should appear at left if everything's working correctly. The bottom axis traces the percentage of people in the class earning the score listed on the y-axis or lower. So if you trace upwards from 50 on the x-axis, you'll find the median grade for the class (a 70).

Update 22 November 2006

The grades have been submitted. I cannot tell you the grade I awarded, but I can tell you what you received on the different components of assessment.

The average grade for the course was a 67 and the median was a 71, standard deviation of 17. For those stats, I include only folks who made a serious attempt at the course, by which I mean people who turned in the final exam. Two people were enrolled in the course at the end of semester but didn't turn in final exam scripts. This sort of thing always confuses me. Dominant strategy is to drop the course rather than to take an E. An E counts as -1 and is incorporated into the grade point average; a dropped course doesn't count at all. If anyone can tell me why folks don't seem here to be following dominant strategy, I'd love to know about it. Am I missing something in the specification of the game?

Do feel free to pop round to pick up whatever bits of assessment are still kicking round my office. I won't give back the take-home scripts, but am happy to chat about them if you have questions.

Update 10 October 2006

The final exam has been distributed to the class by email. If you haven't received it, email me very quickly or pop by my office.

Update 5 October 2006

A belated happy birthday to James Buchanan! He turned 87 on 3 October. Don Boudreaux pays tribute.

Update 2 October 2006

Assignment 4. Due in class Monday, 9 October, taking no more than 3 typed pages, following the directions given in all the previous assignments regarding electronic and paper version submission, attachment of signed cover sheet, and so on.

The General Social Survey tabulates respondent views on social and economic issues, as well as providing information about respondent demographics.

Explore the GSS and find me one instance of each of the following:

  1. Respondent views in line with the self-interested voting hypothesis
  2. Respondent views in line with the sociotropic voting hypothesis
  3. Respondent views in line with the rational irrationality hypothesis

For example, if we find that someone on welfare is more likely to support welfare spending, this would be in line with the self-interested voting hypothesis. You can't use that example.

Have fun! Tell me the names of the variables you selected for your tests, and explain your results. You must provide me sufficient information to replicate your results.

Update 28 September 2006

As reported in class, I received at least one veto on the change in exam date and so the exam will take place on the date advertised in the syllabus.

I mentioned some additional critiques of Wittman in lecture. They are:

The Public Choice articles are available via ProQuest but there's no easy link I can use. Access via the library's e-journal subscriptions.

Update 19 September 2006

Two notes. First, as mentioned in lecture, there's been a proposal to shift the take-home final by one day so that it will be distributed the last Monday after lecture and due three days hence rather than being distributed on the Tuesday. A single veto is sufficient to prevent a shift in a due date published in the syllabus. I promise not to divulge the name of any vetoer. In fact, there may have already been one or more vetos. Or there may have been none of them. I'll reveal whether there have been any vetos on Monday in lecture.

Second, for some reason the grading makes me think I should point folks to Jody Gilbert's list of common grammar mistakes.

Update 24 August 2006

Every now and again, folks ask me if they can cite Wikipedia. Go ahead, but caveat emptor. If you cite something from wikipedia, and wikipedia is wrong, citing wikipedia gives you no protection. It's not a reliable source. You should cite it if that's where you got your info, but if you tell me in an assignment that America was discovered in 1942 by 'some guy', citing Wikipedia as having told you so, I treat it as though the error were entirely yours. One little example here of fun and games on wikipedia...

Update 18 August 2006

I think I've mentioned Gordon Tullock once or twice in class. Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution lists some of his favourite Tullock insults. To be insulted by Tullock is a privilege. Unfortunately, not all of the commentors recognise that. Sigh.

Update 16 August 2006

I'd mentioned in class pork barrel projects -- ones that are worth a lot to the district granted them but that fail an overall cost-benefit analysis. Check out this list of congressional earmarks attached to the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriation bill in the States.

Update 15 August 2006

Intransitivity with non single peaked prefs A better explanation of cycling with non single peaked preferences. One person here, green, has non single peaked preferences. Green, Red and Blue are deciding on the length of a ski trip. Green prefers no trip, but if there's to be one, it should be a long trip. A short trip is worst of all. For blue, a short trip is best. Red's happier the longer the trip. Green induces a cycle: A long trip is preferred to a short trip by 2 people; a short trip is preferred to no trip by 2 people, and no trip is preferred to a long trip by 2 people. L>S>N>L.

Update 7 August 2006

The midterm exam will be held in Commerce 002 on Tuesday, August 15, 6:30-8:30 PM. Study questions are available - we'll discuss them in tutorial.

Update 1 August 2006

I've mentioned political ideology in class a few times. There are a ton of online quizzes that folks can do for fun to see where they seem to place. Try 'em if you're interested. My favourite is Politopia, which is run by the Institute for Human Studies. There are, of course, many others. Political Compass is also pretty good.

Update 28 July 2006

As promised in last week's tutorial, here's further discussion on Buchanan's generality norm.

Update 12 July 2006

Tutorials begin in Econ 336 in week 2. I've had a couple folks ask, and I'm worried that I told one of you that they start this week. They start this week in Econ 224, next week in Econ 336. That is all.

Update 6 July 2006

I had, below, recommended SharpReader for following the course's RSS feed. Of course, that isn't going to work if you're accessing from a machine in one of the computer labs. Rojo seems to be a pretty decent web-based RSS aggregator. It's free. So, no excuses for not catching updates now.

Update 5 July 2006

The course reader is now available for purchase from the usual location. Note that the reader only contains a subset of the readings available on the CD-ROM which will be distributed in the first week of classes.

Update 26 June 2006

Last year's students asked that a primer on how the US Government works be provided. An awful lot of public choice theory analyses the workings of US government. Understanding how it works is pretty important. So, if you don't know about the separation of powers in the US government or the structure of the federal system, check out this primer. Or, pick your favourite US civics text.

Update 10 May 2006

The syllabus is now available with reading list soon to follow.

Update 9 May 2006

I think I've figured out building an RSS feed into this puppy. Caveat emptor; am still testing. Try the RSS link near the top of the page!

Update 9 May 2006

This course begins second semester. Please feel free to peruse this site, as well as the ones from last year and the year before (linked to from the main teaching page) to get a flavour of what Public Choice is like.

General class information follows below; updates will be inserted above this as the class progresses. If I can figure out how to run an RSS feed on the updates, I'll do so. No promises though: I code in Notepad in the HTML I learned in 1995.

Course synopsis

Public Choice applies economic theory and methodology to the study of nonmarket decision-making (typically political decision-making). As economists, we look not to the benevolence of the butcher for our meat but rather to his self-interest. What happens when we realize that politicians and voters are no different? Simply put, we achieve a much better understanding of real-world policy, economic and otherwise. The course provides an overview of positive and normative public choice theory, highlighting work in the economic theory of constitutions, voting rules, bureaucracy, democracy, collective action, dictatorship, the theory of clubs, expressive voting, political business cycles, lobbying, legislative structures, political competition, as well as criticisms of public choice theory. A familiarity with algebra is assumed on the part of students, as is a strong background in microeconomic theory; I will attempt to keep the calculus to lim x --> e (very little).


Evaluation will consist of:

The syllabus is now available.

I will put up a copy of the this year's reading list in the near future; in the interim, please consult last year's version on last year's course website.

Readings and texts

Courseweb lists recommended texts for the course. Those texts are wonderful background reading, but are not required. I will hand out a CD-ROM with all of the required reading at the start of lectures; a reader will also be available that reproduces most of the readings contained on the CD-ROM.

Course style

This course is taught very much in the arts tradition within economics. What does that mean?

So, the course will be a lot of work, especially if you're not accustomed to lots of reading and writing. But, I think it's worth it. So did the students who took it last year, at least according to the course evaluations. Last year's course evaluations ranked Econ 336 as having the highest workload of any undergrad course in the Faculty of Commerce; it also ranked it highest on "Overall, this is a good quality course." Faculty means, minima and maxima are available here. Checking through the Survey and Testing Unit's course evaluation scores isn't a bad idea when making course selections! I've pasted in the bits relevant to Econ 336 below; mean, 90th percentile and maximum scores are all with reference to other courses offered in the Faculty of Commerce.

This was a well organised course This course helped to stimulate my interest in the course area The overall workload in this course was reasonable (1 too low, 5 too high) The level of difficulty of this course was reasonable (1 too low, 5 too high) The course developed my ability to engage in research-related activities The assessment in this course encouraged learning for understanding Overall, this was a good quality course
90th Percentile4.
Econ 3364.

I'm looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks; last year's Econ 336 was great fun and I hope that this year's will be as well. Get ready to do lots of reading and debating of the topics...see you soon!

Please feel free to contact me via email if you have any questions about the class or if you're wondering about taking it. Also check out the page I maintained for last year's Econ 336 class as that gives a decent feel for what the class is like. Hope to see you in the fall!


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