Public Policy Economics (Online)

Course details

From £280.00
10 CATS points

Wed 18 Sep 2019 - Fri 29 Nov 2019

Public Policy Economics (Online)


All of us are affected by government policies, and governments place particular emphasis on economic policies. This course covers some of the most important questions about the aims and tools of economic policy. It will equip students to evaluate the economic arguments made about public policy choices.

All of us as citizens are affected by government policies, and governments place particular emphasis on economic policies. These are therefore prominent in political debate and in the news. Yet few people have the knowledge to be able to evaluate claims and counter-claims. This course covers some of the most important questions about the aims and tools of economic policy, ranging from competition policy and regulation to industrial policy, from public spending choices to incorporating behavioural psychology 'nudges' in policy decisions. It covers the role of the state versus the market, and the government's responsibility for sustainability. It will equip students to evaluate the economic arguments made about public policy choices.

Listen to Dr Diane Coyle talking about the course:

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. The aims of public policy

  • Original purpose of economic policy
  • Economic policy in the twentieth century
  • The range of economic policies
  • Taxing, borrowing and spending
  • Rationales for economic policies
  • Market failure and government failure – the public choice revolution
  • The boundary of government and the market

2. Social welfare and growth

  • Social welfare versus growth
  • Growth and sustainability
  • Measuring welfare
  • Dashboard approaches to measurement
  • Distribution and social welfare
  • Inequality and social welfare
  • The well-being revolution in public policy

3. Market Failures

  • What are market failures?
  • Congestion externalities
  • How to tackle externalities
  • The Coase theorem
  • The limits of market solutions
  • Other institutions to solve market failures

4. State ownership, privatisation and regulation

  • Nationalisation and privatisation
  • What can go wrong? The example of UK rail privatisation
  • Regulating privatised industries
  • Deregulating taxis
  • Competition and regulation

5. Industrial policy

  • 'Horizontal' industrial policy
  • The Asian model of industrial policy
  • Strategic innovation policies
  • Government's role in the internet and the World Wide Web
  • Government investment in R and D

6. Social choice and individual choice

  • The dangers of the ‘states versus markets’ perspective
  • Institutional approaches
  • Exit, voice and loyalty
  • Social capital and social norms
  • Positional goods
  • Institutions and public sector reform
  • Public service motivations

7. Social security

  • The growth of the welfare state
  • Inequality and redistribution
  • Minimum wages
  • Negative income tax and basic income
  • Pension provision
  • Social security in development

8. Behavioural public policy

  • What is behavioural economics?
  • Behavioural economics in public policy
  • Pension saving
  • Behavioural regulation
  • Behavioural economics in development
  • The ethics of nudging

9. Government Failure

  • Regulatory failures
  • Unintended consequences
  • Collective action and interest groups
  • Corruption
  • Project disasters

10. Evaluating public policies

  • Benefit-cost analysis
  • Contingent valuation and stated preference
  • Public value
  • Randomised control trials
  • Humility and complexity
  • Conclusions

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in this course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books:

Le Grand, J, Smith, S, and Propper, C., The Economics of Social Problems 4th edition (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2008)

Coyle, D., GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History (Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 2014)


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below:

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.


Home/EU Fee: £280.00
Non-EU Fee: £300.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • Explore the rationale for public policy interventions in the economy.
  • Provide an overview of a wide range of areas of applied microeconomics used in public policy, including relevant historical and international experience.
  • Discuss the role of economics in the political process; (iv) provide an introduction to the evaluation of economic policies. It will have some interdisciplinary elements, in touching on political economy and behavioural economics.

This course will enable participants to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the criteria for successful microeconomic public policy interventions.
  • Show understanding of the reasons for the variation in policy interventions over time and in different contexts.
  • Evaluate critically policy proposals, including demonstrating awareness of sources of empirical evidence.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of specific topics in public policy economics.
  • Contribute to public and policy debates about a range of economic issues.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course the participants will understand:

  • The importance of definitions and ethics in framing policy questions and public debate.
  • The limitations of both states and markets in collective action.
  • The many trade-offs and choices that inevitably arise in economic policy.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • Critically evaluate data, evidence and arguments about economic policy questions.
  • Contribute to debates themselves in a more evidence based way.
  • Link policy choices to social welfare, or ethical, goals.
  • Connect economic trade-offs with issues of political choice and practical implementation.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.