Behavioral Public Economics Mini-Course

Welcome to the website for the PhD-level mini-course in behavioral public economics!

The materials are based on the May 2022 NBER Behavioral Public Economics PhD Student Boot Camp. The camp was organized by Hunt Allcott, Doug Bernheim, and Dmitry Taubinsky, and it also included lectures from Nava Ashraf, Raj Chetty, David Laibson, Elizabeth Linos, Michael Grubb, Mario Small, Johannes Spinnewijn, and Stefanie Stantcheva. It was funded by the Sloan Foundation.


Through the lens of neoclassical economics, the role of government is to provide public goods, correct externalities, provide information, and address other market failures. In practice, however, some public policies are motivated by the concern that people do not act in their own best interest. For example, many countries ban drugs, tax cigarettes, alcohol, and sugary drinks, or subsidize retirement savings and energy-efficient cars and appliances, at least in part because people might be better off if they made different choices.

Standard approaches to policy analysis rely on revealed preference assumptions to measure welfare. In those frameworks, paternalistic policies mechanically reduce consumer welfare. However, empirical evidence from behavioral economics in a variety of domains suggests that people sometimes do make systematic mistakes. The field of behavioral public economics extends the theoretical and empirical tools of public economics to incorporate the possibility of consumer mistakes into questions about policy evaluation and design.

The mini-course considers questions such as:

  • How can we do welfare analysis if choices do not necessarily identify true preferences?

  • How do we empirically measure consumer biases?

  • How do we set socially optimal policies in settings when consumers may not act in their own best interest?

  • Nudges change behavior at low cost. Does that mean they are a good idea?

  • What are the costs and benefits of tax complexity?

Click here for the reading list.

Lecture videos, slides, and native files are available from the Lectures tab.

There are two problem sets, available from the Problem Sets tab.