Forward College

Political Analysis and Public Choice

This course introduces you to the analytic techniques of public choice theory. The topic of the course goes under many different names: public choice, rational choice, political economy, analytic politics, political economics. Essentially it involves a technique for studying political institutions and processes in order to understand better the structural forces that lead to public policy outcomes that different types of institutions lead to. It involves abstracting from institutions and processes those elements the analyst considers are the most important. Representing those elements in simple models the analyst is able to manipulate the conditions of those elements and see what we should expect to happen. The simple models produce implications usually called predictions or hypotheses. We see how far the real world departs from those predictions using qualitative or quantitative evidence, and can begin to see whether or not our simple models do map fundamental structural forces. The techniques involve going under the surface of politics and political institutions to analyse the structural and causal forces that lead to types of outcomes.

  • To have a working knowledge of public choice theory – its assumptions, ‘tools’ and limitations 
  • To understand some of the core arguments of public choice and their application to political institutions and processes 
  • To be able to apply these arguments and principles to new political situations, institutions and complex political processes in liberal democracies.

At the end of this course and having completed the essential reading and activities students should be able to: 

  • show how rational choice models can be applied to political institutions and processes in order to understand their mechanisms
  • demonstrate how essentially the same processes may work in entirely different institutional settings 
  • show how the rational actor model can be applied to any situations involving human action 
  • explain the function of the important institutions in modern liberal democracies. 


Mueller, D.C. Public Choice III. (Cambridge University Press, 2003) third edition [ISBN 978- 0521894753]

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