Econ 410: Public Choice


Spring 05

Professor Tabarrok

Tel. 993-2314



MW 1:30-2:45, Enterprise 176.  Final Exam Wed. 5/10, 1:30 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.


Office Hours:  TR 2-4.  I am in Carow Hall most mornings and most afternoons.  Feel free to drop by any time.  Call ahead to guarantee that I will be around.  Email is a good way to get in contact with me.  All students should periodically check their GMU email account for important information.


Grades: Grades will be based on two midterms and a final.  The midterms will be worth 25% each, the final 50%.  If you miss a midterm the remaining midterm will count for 50% of your grade.    


Text:  One text is required for the class as well as a number of readings.  The text is:


Olson, Mancur. 1982. The Rise and Decline of Nations. New Haven. Yale University Press.


A list of readings can be found at the end of the syllabus.  Many readings are available online, through a computer hooked up via the university, and can be easily downloaded by going to the online syllabus on my web page


readings which are not available online can be found on e-reserve at the library.


The grading scale is as follows (where consistent with university policy):


                                                                        A:   85-100% 

                                                                        A-:  80-84%

                                                                        B:   70-79%

                                                                        C:   60-69%

                                                                        D:   50-59%

                                                                        F:    50% -


            Plus-Minuses for B through D grades will occur at the upper and lower 2.5% level.  For example, 70-72.49 will be B-, 72.5-77.49 B, 77.5-79.9 B+ and so forth.

A Rough Guide to the Class





Democratic Pathologies


Gwartney and Wagner (1998)

Baker (1996)

Caplan (2001)


Special Interest Groups and the Rise and Decline of Nations

Mancur Olson, chs. 1,2,3,4


Regulation as Rent Seeking

Peltzman (1989)


Political Business Cycles and Political War Cycles

Grier (1987)

Hess and Orphanides (1995)



Mauro (1995)

Shleifer and Vishny (1993)
Murphy, Shleifer and Vishny (1993)
Doing Business (website)


Famine, Corruption, The Media and Democracy

Sen (1990)

Besley and Burgess (2002)

McMillan and Zoido (2004)

Djankov et al. (2003)

Lott (1999)


Growth, Distribution, Taxation and some Big Questions of Development

Diamond (1999) – class notes.

Engerman and Sokoloff (2001)

Meltzer and Richards (1981)

Persson and Tabellini (1992)



Votes vs. Dollars, majority rule


Class Notes


Voting systems – Substantive Effects

a)      Minority Vote Dilution

b)      District vs. at large systems

c)      Runoffs and plurality rule

d)      Gerrymandering

Davidson (1984)

Engstrom and McDonald (1986)


Paradoxes of Voting

a)   Majority rule with pairwise comparisons

a)     Cycling

b)     Cycling Extended and the Seven Dwarfs

c)     Cycling in continuous policy dimensions

d)     Agenda setting and the killer amendment

Paradoxes of Voting


More Paradoxes



The Arrow Impossibility Theorem

Arrow’s Theorem


The Difference a Different Voting System can Make

Tabarrok (2001), Tabarrok and Spector (1999)


Strategic Voting and The Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem

Class Notes

Dixit and Nalebuff (1991)


The Median Voter Theorem

Class Notes


Constitutional Economics

Brennan and Buchanan (1980), Chapter 1


“When will a society of free and rational utility maximizing individuals choose to undertake action collectively rather than privately.”

Buchanan and Tullock (1965), Chapters 5 and 6


An application to condominiums

Barzel and Sass (1990)






A Tax Constitiuon or Public Choice versus Public Finance

Brennan and Buchanan (1980), Chapter 3.


Term Limits

Tabarrok (1994)


Court Politics

Helland and Tabarrok (2002)


Soviet Style Bureaucracy

Shleifer and Vishny (1992)







Alesina, A., N. Roubini, and G. D. Cohen. 1997. Political cycles in the United States. In Political Cycles and the Macroeconomy, 73-83. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.


Baker, P. 1996. Primarily, Warner's Flush. The Washington Post (31 May):A1,A6.


Barzel, Y., and T. R. Sass. 1990. The Allocation of Resources By Voting. Quarterly Journal of Economics CV (August):745-71.

Besley T. and R. Burgess. 2002. The Political Economy Of Government Responsiveness: Theory And Evidence From India. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117 (4):1415-1451.

Brennan, Geoffrey and James M. Buchanan, The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution. Liberty Fund, Inc. 2000. Library of Economics and Liberty. 27 December 2005.


Buchanan, J. M., and G. Tullock. 1965. The Calculus of Consent. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.


Caplan, Bryan. 2001. Rational Irrationality and the Microfoundations of Political Failure.

Public Choice 107(3/4): 311-331.


Carter, J. R., and D. Schap. 1990. Line Item Veto: Where Is They Sting? Journal of Economic Perspectives 4 (2):103-18.


Davidson, C. 1984. Minority Vote Dilution: Introduction. Chap. 1 In Minority Vote Dilution, ed. C. Davidson, 1-23. Wash., D.C.: Howard University Press.


Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies. New York : W.W. Norton & Co.


Dixit, A., and B. Nalebuff. 1991. The strategy of voting. In Thinking Strategically, 259-85. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.


Djankov, S., C. McLiesh, T. Nenova, and A. Shleifer. 2003. Who Owns the Media? Journal of Law and Economics 46(2): 341-381.


Engerman, Stanley L. and Kenneth L. Sokoloff. 2001. Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development among New World Economies. Economia 3.1 (2002) 41-109


Engstrom, R. L., and M. D. McDonald. 1986. The effect of at-large versus district elections on racial representation in the U.S. municipalities. In Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences, ed. B. Grofman and A. Lijphart, 203-25. New York: Agathon Press.


Grier, K. B. 1987. Presidential Elections and Federal Reserve Policy: An Empirical Test. Southern Economic Journal 54 (2):475-86.


---. 1991. Congressional Influence On U.S. Monetary Policy. Journal of Monetary Economics 28:201-20.


Gwartney, J. D., and R. E. Wagner. 1988. Public Choice and the conduct of representative government. In Public Choice and Constitutional Economics, ed. J. D. Gwartney and R. E. Wagner, 3-28. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.


Helland, E. and A. Tabarrok. 2002. The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards. American Law and Economics Review 4 (2): 341-370.


Hess, G. D., and A. Orphanides. 1995. War Politics: An Economic, Rational-Voter Framework. American Economic Review 85 (4):828-46.


Lott, John R. Jr. 1999. Public Schooling, Indoctrination, and Totalitarianism. Journal of Political Economy 107 (6) pt. 2: S127-S157.


Mauro, Paolo. 1995. Corruption and Growth. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 110, No. 3. (Aug., 1995), pp. 681-712.


Meltzer, A. H., and S. F. Richard. 1981. A Rational Theory of the Size of Government. Journal of Political Economy 89:914-27.


McMillan, John and Pablo Zoido.  2004.  How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru. Journal of Economic Perspectives 18 (4): 69-92.


Parker, F. R. 1984. Racial gerrymandering and legislative reapportionment. In Minority Vote Dilution, ed. C. Davidson, 85-115. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.


Peltzman, S. 1989. The economic theory of regulation after a decade of deregulation. In Brookings Papers On Economic Activity: Microeconomics, ed. M. N. Bailey and C. Winston, 1-41. Wash., D.C.: Brookings Institution.


Persson, T. and G. Tabellini. 1992. Growth, Distribution and Politics. European Economic Review 36:593-602. Reprinted in Persson and Tabellini (1994).


Shleifer, A., and R. Vishny. 1992. Pervasive Shortages Under Socialism. Rand Journal of Economics 23 (2):237-46.


Sen, Amartya. 1990. Public Action to Remedy Hunger. Tanco Memorial Lecture. London.


Tabarrok, A. 1994. A Survey, Critique, and New Defense of Term Limits. Cato Journal 14 (2):333-50.


Tabarrok, Alexander. 2001. President Perot, or Fundamentals of Voting Theory Illustrated with the 1992 Election. Public Choice 106 (3-4): 275-297.


Tabarrok, Alexander. and Lee Spector. 1999.  Would the Borda Count have Avoided the Civil War? Journal of Theoretical Politics 11(2): 261-288.