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Public Finance: Theories and Cases


Units: 12


Understanding public finance is essential for people working in public policy. Traditionally the study of public finance has been treated largely as a branch of micro-economics focussing on taxation and how the funds raised by taxation are spent.

Lately a more contemporary approach has emerged which takes a more multi-disciplinary approach. The long-standing concern with efficiency remains but there is greater emphasis on fairness and equity as well as on developing solutions that work in practice where political feasibility becomes important. This raises issues of citizen involvement: co-production and other forms of partnerships between governments and citizens, particularly citizen involvement in spending decisions. It also focusses attention on efficiency and fairness in how public finance is raised through taxation and debt as well as on modes of service delivery. Underpinning all of this is the normative debate about the role of government.

To address these different perspectives, this course draws upon the disciplines of economics, political science, political philosophy and management.

It is intended to put students into the driver’s seat so that they understand not only the concepts but can also work the levers for managing public finance functions.

Learning Outcomes

Students completing this course should be able to:

  • Critically evaluate policy recommendations relating to public finance using standard tools of policy analysis
  • Apply normative theory to policy-making in public finance
  • Develop recommendations for raising taxation revenue and debt finance that are economically sound and politically feasible
  • Read and analyse government budget statements
  • Research public finance policy using a wide range of sources
  • Apply public finance analytic techniques to complex policy areas such as :
    • environmental policy
    • health policy interventions
    • addressing inequality
    • resource taxation policy.


Prerequisites Description