Public Finance (p)

Course content

The teaching in this course may be changed to be taught either fully or partly online due to COVID-19. For further information, see the course room on Absalon. The time, place and type of assessment used for the exam may also be changed due to COVID-19, and any further information will be announced under the panel “Exam”.

The course introduces students to the main topics, concepts, theories, empirical methods and results in Public Finance. Public Finance deals with the role of government in the economy. It focuses on the relationship between the government and the market and tries to answer such questions as when should the government intervene, and what problems can arise due to government policy when governments operate under imperfect information and other imperfections. The course covers both positive and normative aspects of government policy regarding the expenditure side and, in particular, the financing side of the public sector.


A key aspect of Public Finance is the use of theoretical models to derive conditions for optimal policy that only depend on parameters that we can estimate using real data. During the course the students will see examples of this close link between theory and data at the lectures and in hands on exercises. They will learn to apply the achieved knowledge by analyzing and structuring academic discussions to the effects and optimality of policy initiatives. The students will also learn how to acquire additional knowledge about public policy issues through reading of scientific journal articles.


Topics and questions covered in the course include:

  • Deadweight loss and excess burden: How do we measure the efficiency cost of taxation and why is the size of the behavioral responses to taxation important?
  • Labor supply and taxes: In what way is the labor market special in terms of outcomes and public policies? How do this affect behavioral responses to taxation, efficiency and government revenue?
  • Measurement of behavioral responses: How can empirical methods be used to identify behavioral responses to government policy? What are the key assumptions and how can we validate them? 
  • Tax evasion: How is tax evasion defined? What is the level of tax evasion and what are the likely causes for it?
  • Tax incidence: What determines who bears the “true cost” of a tax? How it the distribution of the burden affected by imperfect competition (as oppose to perfect competition).
  • Taxation of firms: In what way is taxation of firms special? How does this affect who bears the burden of taxation and efficiency in the short and long run?
  • Inequality and intergenerational mobility: How is inequality measured? How has it evolved over time and how is it transmitted between generations?
  • Social welfare: What are the main arguments for government intervention? How do we compare and choose between different possible outcomes in society?
  • Optimal income taxation: How big is the trade-off between equality and efficiency? How high should the tax on high incomes be?
  • Social insurance: What is the difference between redistribution and social insurance? What is the optimal degree of social insurance (e.g. unemployment insurance) in society?

MSc programme in Economics – elective course

Bacheloruddannelsen i økonomi – Prioriteret valgfag på 3. år (angivet med et 'p')

The Danish BSc programme in Economics - prioritized elective at the 3rd year (symbolized by ‘p’)

Learning outcome

After completing the course the student is expected to be able to:



  • Provide precise definitions of key concepts used in public finance when debating public policy (incidence, excess burden, intensive vs. extensive responses etc.).
  • Account for motives for and against public sector involvement in the economy (redistribution, externalities, efficiency loss etc.)
  • Define and discuss the theories and underlying assumptions behind key arguments about public policy (e.g. theory about tax incidence).
  • Identify main empirical findings on the effects of public policy (e.g. introducing an earned income tax credit).



  • Apply the empirical methods to analyze the effects of public policy (e.g. the difference-in-difference method)
  • Assess the assumptions underlying the different methods (e.g. the common trend assumption).
  • Analyze and engage in discussions about the effects and optimality of public policy initiatives by using the appropriate concepts, providing correct theoretical arguments and including relevant results from the empirical literature.
  • Assess which empirical methods to use for analysing a policy problem
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different methods.



  • Master the achieved knowledge and skills to structure and/or manage academic discussions about how to analyze the effects and optimality of new policy initiatives.


Teaching consists of lectures and two workshop, where students analyze a problem theoretically and use empirical methods (hands on) to identify relevant behavioral responses to public policy.

The lecturer offers office-hours. The lecturer informs when and where.

Hindriks, Jean and Gareth Myles (2013): “Intermediate Public Economics”, 2nd edition, MIT Press.

Various scientific journal articles and other readings.

Knowledge of basic economic principles from the courses Principle of Economics A and B. Knowledge of micro economics (consumer optimization using calculus, equivalent/compensating variation and social welfare) from the courses Microeconomics I and II.
Knowledge of empirical methods (cross sectional regression analysis) from the course Econometrics I.
(All courses offered at the Bachelor of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

The student may also benefit from courses in "Labor Economics" and "Applied Econometric Policy Evaluation" or similar course.

2 hours lectures 1 to 2 times a week from week 36 to 50 (except week 42).

The overall schema for the BA 3rd year and Master can be seen at KUnet:
MSc in Economics => "Courses and teaching" => "Planning and overview" => "Your timetable"
BA i Økonomi/KA i Økonomi => "Kurser og undervisning" => "Planlægning og overblik" => "Dit skema"

Timetable and venue:
To see the time and location of lectures please press the link under "Timetable"/​"Se skema" at the right side of this page. E means Autumn.

You can find the similar information partly in English at
-Select Department: “2200-Økonomisk Institut” (and wait for respond)
-Select Module:: “2200-E20; [Name of course]”
-Select Report Type: “List – Weekdays”
-Select Period: “Efterår/Autumn – Weeks 31-4”
Press: “ View Timetable”



The Students can receive oral feedback on request during the two workshops.

The lecturer gives collective feedback on the workshop reports during the lectures.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 3 hours
The exam assignment is given in English and must be answered in English.
Due to the Corona crisis, the Board of Study has decided to change the regular exams and the re-sit exams in the autumn semester to written online take-home exams. Both exams are still individual.

During the exam, it is not allowed to communicate with others about the exam assignment nor the solution at all. It is also prohibited to distribute data regarding the solutions to anyone. If this or alike actions happens, it will be regarded as cheating and plagiarism.

Please
- https:/​/​​newsroom/​study-messages/​Pages/​Information-about-the-winter-exams-at-the-Department-of-Economics.aspx
- https:/​/​​newsroom/​study-messages/​Pages/​Information-on-rescheduled-PBV-winter-exams-.aspx
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
for the written exam. The exam may be chosen for external censorship by random check.
Criteria for exam assessment

Students are assessed on the extent to which they master the learning outcome for the course.


To receive the top grade, the student must with no or only a few minor weaknesses be able to demonstrate an excellent performance displaying a high level of command of all aspects of the relevant material and can make use of the knowledge, skills and competencies listed in the learning outcomes.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 161
  • Exam
  • 3
  • English
  • 206