What Would You Like to See on My Public Choice Syllabus?
By Bryan Caplan
In previous years, I’ve taught graduate Public Finance I. In designing the course, I treated “public finance” as a synonym for “public economics” or “economics of government.” So while I spent several weeks discussing bread-and-butter public finance topics like the incidence of taxation and provision of public goods, I spent the last half of the course on my favorite topics: the empirical failure of the self-interested voter hypothesis, the role of ideology, Wittman’s critique of traditional public choice, expressive voter, voter irrationality, and the economics of anarchy.
Now I’m switching from Public Finance I to Public Choice II. Since my Public Finance syllabus was already infused with public choice topics, I don’t need to construct a new course from scratch. I merely need to cut out (a) the bread-and-butter public finance topics, and (b) the public choice topics that my colleague Roger Congleton already covers in Public Choice I. Then I’ll just reorganize my Public Finance I notes, and add some additional public choice material.
Since this is a second-semester graduate course, it’s particularly appropriate to focus on topics at the “research frontier” – areas where there’s still lots of room for new, creative research.
So far, here’s what I plan to add:
- an extra week on public opinion, including material on e.g. the effect of religion on political views and Andrew Gelman’s work on voting and income
- an extra week on voter irrationality, including material on e.g. IQ and economic beliefs and foreign policy. Hopefully Scott Althaus’ book on public opinion and war will be out by then.
- a week on government growth, covering Higgs’ classic Crisis and Leviathan, Tyler’s technological account, and more
- a week on dictatorship, including an introduction to the histories of Communism and Nazism. I’ll probably assign Tullock’s Autocracy.
- a week on constitutional solutions to government failure, including a discussion of endogenous institutions
- a week on anarchy, including an introduction to the major anarcho-capitalist debates in the scholarly literature. I’ll probably assign Ed Stringham’s Anarchy and the Law.
This is only a tentative outline. Any suggestions for topics – great and small – that you’d like to see on the syllabus? As usual, I’ll publish my entire course on my webpage, so you don’t have to enroll to benefit from your requests.