Courses. Master in Institutions and Political Economy. Universitat de Barcelona.

Compulsory courses

Students will devote the first year to compulsory courses that provide the core analytical and methodological foundations of their training and an advanced knowledge of the fields covered in the program.

  • Comparative Politics I: Political Behavior

    In the first course of the Comparative Politics track, we focus on the microfoundations of democratic politics. We will study the core elements of comparative political behavior: from the formation of mass beliefs, to the models of participation and vote choice. We will study also the role of elections in democracy and the formation and evolution of party systems. We will also cover the role of clientelism, gender and politics and the basics of the analytical models of representation.


    1. The nature of mass beliefs systems
    2. Cognitive and behavioral foundations of political behavior
    3. Turnout and participation
    4. Vote choice models
    5. Origins and evolution of party systems
    6. Elections and electoral systems
    7. Democracy and accountability
    8. Clientelism, vote buying, electoral violence and programmatic mobilization
    9. Gender and politics
    10. Analytical models of preference aggregation and representation
  • Comparative Politics II: Institutions

    The second course of the Comparative Politics track deals with the core issues of comparative politics. From state formation, to regimes and the performance of democracy.


    1. Theories of state formation: Order and conflict
    2. Determinants of state capacity
    3. Civil wars, terrorism and insurgence
    4. Nations and nationalism
    5. Ethnicity and democracy
    6. Theories of democratization
    7. Varieties of Authoritarianism
    8. Constitutions and Institutions: Legislative-executive relations, Federalism
    9. Outcomes of democracy: democracy and redistribution
    10. Democracy, development and growth
    11. Democracy and quality of government
    12. Empirical applications of theoretical models in institutional analysis
  • Comparative Politics III: Advanced Topics in Comparative Politics

    In the third course of the Comparative Politics track we will discuss current topics of research in comparative politics. We will become familiarized with cutting edge literature in the field in topics ranging from polarization and radical right politics to the role of geography and the political consequences of technological change.


    1. Failures of representation in modern democracies
    2. Turnout, mobilization and disaffection
    3. The role of geography and spatial politics
    4. Political consequences of technological change and automation
    5. The decline of social capital and political trust
    6. A long-term view: economic history and authoritarianism
    7. Perspectives on Brexit: exploring its trade and fiscal origins
    8. Different perspectives on the radical right in Europe
    9. Polarization and democratic backsliding in advanced democracies
    10. Polarization and democratic backsliding in advanced democracies
    11. Media and politics
    12. Pandemics and democratic politics
    13. Empirical implications of theoretical models: current topics
  • Introduction to Political Economy

    The course will introduce students to the basic workhorse theoretical models used to analyze public sector decisions (on spending, taxes, regulation, etc.). The course will deal with models of Electoral politics (median voter, probabilistic voting), Special interest politics (campaign finance, policy for sale), Partisan politics (citizen candidates, legislative bargaining), Accountability (agency, selection), and will also study the effects of Political institutions. The course will make special emphasis on how these models can be used to guide empirical research and will also introduce students to the main empirical tools used in applied research.


    1. Electoral politics: median voter
    2. Electoral politics: probabilistic voting
    3. Special interest politics: theory
    4. Special interest politics: empirics
    5. Partisan politics: theory
    6. Partisan politics: empirics
    7. Accountability: theory
    8. Accountability: empirics
    9. Institutions: theory
    10. Institutions: empirics
  • Political Economy of Public Policy

    This course introduces students to the politics of the policymaking process. It will develop general principles for thinking about policymaking in order to apply them across a range of issue areas. The course examines public-policy making, its characteristics, determinants and consequences, both in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes. It provides theoretical foundations from both economics and political science and then examines topics from both theoretical and applied areas of political economy, such as collective action, electoral competition, fiscal policy and redistribution, bureaucracy, rent-seeking, regulation, information and accountability, constitutional reforms. The course pays special attention to understanding how strategic interactions give rise to social dilemmas that may or may not create room for the government to improve social welfare. To that avail, it will focus on examining how technological, institutional, and strategic constraints get in the way of governments and policy-makers. Finally, the course will provide insights on how state-of-the-art research (like behavioural economics) may be used by policy-makers in order to achieve their goals, either as complements or as substitutes of more standard traditional tools.


    1. Normative foundations and collective goals
    2. Political systems: Liberal democracies vs. Authoritarian regimes.
    3. Political institutions
    4. Mechanism design and commitment devices: checks and balances
    5. The electoral cycle and dynamic inconsistencies
    6. What lies ahead: the future of public policies
  • Economic History I: Long-term economic growth, a global approach

    The aim of this course is to analyze the characteristics and development of different world economies from Prehistory to the present. The course starts with a synthetic presentation of the evolution of economic growth and global inequality in the very long term. We will then approach the main features of preindustrial economies and the changes associated to the British Industrial Revolution. From then on, the course will follow a chronological order, analyzing the main stages of the evolution of the international economy and its different regions since the Industrial Revolution.


    1. Introduction: Economic growth and convergence in the very long term
    2. The preindustrial economies
      1. 2.1. The Neolithic Revolution
      2. 2.2. The logic of the Malthusian economies
    3. Antecedents of the British Industrial Revolution
      1. 3.1. Europe vs. China: The medieval origins of the European miracle
      2. 3.2. The little divergence of the Netherlands and England in Early Modern times
    4. The Industrial Revolution: characteristics and consequences
    5. Industrialization and first globalization in the 19th century
    6. Causes and consequences of the Interwar period crisis
    7. The world economy during the “Golden Age” (1945-73)
    8. The world economy since the 1970s
  • Economic History II: Institutions and the formation of state capacity

    The objective of this course is to unravel the factors behind state expansion from the Modern era to the 20th century, in both developed and developing countries. One of the most relevant changes occurred since the late 19th century has been the rapid growth of the state as an economic agent. In the 19th century, government activities were largely limited to the administration of justice, the maintenance of public order, and military defense. Today, government activities in some developed countries represent more than 50% of GDP and are still growing rapidly in many developing countries. What explains this transformation? Economic growth, urbanization and technological change have increased the volume of information that states can handle and their taxation capacity. However, political factors, such as redistribution demands, the legitimation needs of governments, and democratization processes have been equally important.


    1. The role of institutions in economic development
    2. State formation since classical antiquity: from the limited social order to the open social order
    3. The development of the fiscal state: political conflict, centralization and parliaments
    4. Colonialism and state formation: direct and indirect consequences of independence
    5. The formation of the welfare state: models and explanatory factors
    6. The rise of mass education
    7. The welfare state in developing countries
    8. Consequences and sustainability of the welfare state: the challenge of pensions and effects on economic growth
  • Research design

    This course is designed as a “research in progress” seminar. Students are expected to complete a master thesis and this course is intended to provide students with the tools necessary to conduct high-quality research on their own. The purpose of the course is twofold. First, students will receive training on how to develop an empirically-oriented research project: pose a significant research question, connect it to the relevant scientific literature, develop a theory and hypotheses with observable consequences that can be tested with the research methods discussed in other courses of the master’s, and find the relevant data. Second, students will have the opportunity to present their research at different stages, receive feedback from fellow students and faculty, and also analyze and discuss other students’ projects. As a part of this course, students will also be required to attend to a given number of research seminars during the semester. For some of them, they will have to complete a brief task, in which they will summarize the presentation and evaluate key points of how the research was presented and discussed.


    1. The scientific method
    2. Elements of a scientific research project
      1. 2.1. The research question: contribution, explanation vs description, and literature review
      2. 2.2. Theory and hypotheses: arguments and mechanisms
      3. 2.3. Data: case selection and biases
      4. 2.4. Methods: Choosing the right methodological strategy
    3. Being a researcher
      1. 3.1. Ethics in research
      2. 3.2. How to write a proposal
      3. 3.3. Communicating research
      4. 3.4. Discussing research
      5. 3.5. Attending research seminars
  • Data science I: Fundamentals

    This is the first class of a three-course sequence in data science using R. We will learn the basics of the R language for data management, analysis and visualization. We will also cover the basics of probability theory and statistical inference. Most of the course on regression analysis, from simple linear regression to multivariate and non-linear models. We will cover estimation, inference, model diagnostics, and post-estimation. The course will very applied, focused on modelling and interpretation and presentation of results. It will be hands-on, so students will be required to complete assignments on a weekly basis.


    1. Introduction to R
    2. Basic probability for statistics
    3. Univariate Statistical inference
    4. From questions to models: Introduction to applied regression analysis
    5. Least squares estimation, coefficients and interpretation
    6. Inference and confidence intervals
    7. Model fit
    8. Multivariate regression
    9. Interactions in a regression framework
    10. Assumptions, diagnostics and solutions
  • Data science II: Causal Inference

    This course will introduce students to modern empirical methods for answering causal research questions in Economics and Political Science. In the course introduction, we will study the difference between causality and correlation, analyzing the issues we need to overcome to obtain causal estimates. We will then study in detail the most used empirical methods in Economics and Political Science: randomized experiment, panel data, difference-in-differences, regression discontinuity design, and instrumental variables.

    The course's goal is to teach the students how to form causal research questions and how to answer them using the most recent empirical methods used in Economics and Political Science. Besides, the course aims to make students critical consumers of empirical research papers that make use of causal empirical methods in Economics, Political Science, and (Social) Science in general.


    1. Introduction I: causality vs correlation, identification issues, omitted variables, and measurement error
    2. Introduction II: causal inference, the selection problem
    3. Randomized experiment
    4. Panel data: random effects, fixed effects
    5. Difference-in-differences
    6. Regression discontinuity design
    7. Instrumental variables
    8. Mixed topics: matching methods, quantile regressions, standard errors
  • Microeconomics

    This course will introduce the basic tools of microeconomic analysis to examine individual choices and the resulting market outcomes. The main aim will be to provide students with a basic understanding of models that can guide their research and which generally motivate applied research. We will study different types of market structures, from perfect competition to imperfect competition due to market power (i.e., monopoly or monopolistic competition). We will introduce how asymmetric information problems distort market outcomes and other market failures such as externalities and the provision of public goods.


    1. Introduction: prices and markets, allocation and scarcity, marginal utility, positive and normative economics
    2. The demand and the supply curves: individual and market demand and supply, elasticities, risk and uncertainty
    3. Competitive markets: partial and general equilibrium, efficiency
    4. Market power: monopoly, oligopoly, monopolistic competition
    5. Asymmetric information: adverse selection, moral hazard, signaling
    6. Externalities and public goods
  • Game theory

    Game theory studies situations in which the success of an individual's decision depends on the decisions made by others (strategic interdependence). The aim of the course is that students develop skills for the application of game theory to their corresponding fields within Social Sciences. This includes from the recognition of strategic situations to the selection of the best formal models to analyse them.


    1. Introduction: Game theory and related concepts
    2. Static games: Strategies and equilibria
    3. Dynamic games: Sequences and strategic thinking
    4. Repeated games: Limiting the number of repetitions, reputation and expectations
    5. Limitations of classical game theory and evolutionary game theory
    6. Social networks and strategic interactions: Games on networks, network formation as a game

Optional courses

The first half of the second year is dedicated to optional courses, in which students will delve deep into more specialized topics related to their specific research interests.

Students must choose 6 of the following courses:

  • Advanced analysis of institutions

    A course on advanced institutional analysis. First, it deals with analytical models of institutional change. Then, we will discuss the main theories of legislative politics, the role of interest groups, government formation and coalition politics, judicial politics, bureaucracy and media systems.


    1. Models of institutional change.
    2. Parliaments: organization and decision making. Committees, party discipline.
    3. The role of interest groups and social movements
    4. Government formation, stability and duration. Coalition Politics.
    5. Judicial behavior. Judicial politics.
    6. Bureaucratic autonomy. Models of bureaucratic behavior.
    7. Media systems and democracy
    8. Cooperation and trust with political institutions
    9. Networks and political institutions
    10. Philanthropy and political capture
    11. Empirical implications of theoretical models: institutional analysis
  • Political Ecology

    In this course we will explore the interdisciplinary field of Political Ecology. Political Ecology is a theoretical and methodological approach for the study of socio-ecological systems that focuses on conflict, power and the uneven distribution of environmental costs and benefits. This course will familiarize students with the key concepts and tools used by political ecologists. At the end of the course students should be able to do political ecology research themselves. They will also be introduced to new, critical, ways of looking at and understanding environmental problems and policies.


    1. What is political ecology?
    2. Historical perspectives to understand the present: Environmental and agrarian history
    3. Construction and destruction of nature
    4. Ecological distribution conflicts
    5. Political ecology and feminism: from the macro to the everyday practices
    6. Social movements and environmental justice
    7. Political economy of the environment
    8. Socio-ecological transitions
  • Topics in Political Economy

    This course will use the skills acquired in previous blocs to provide an overview of concrete topics in political economy –such as corruption, gender and politics, conflict, immigration– aiming at presenting the frontier of recent research.


    1. Corruption. Governments intervene to prevent market failures, which involves political decisions on transferring resources from one party to another, creating room for corruption. This is an important topic because the public sector represents a very large share of the economy and corruption is one of the main government failures.
    2. Gender and politics. In most theoretical frameworks, the identity of politicians does not matter (i.e., if they follow the median voter). Does the very unequal gender representation in politics have consequences? What are the factors behind this unequal representation, and is there a role for public policy?
    3. Conflict. Conflict and violence are still present all over the world. What are their economic and political causes and consequences?
    4. Immigration. Supply shocks to the economy create opportunities for economic growth, but not everyone benefits equally. This has important implications for the political process and the resulting policies.
  • Federalism and decentralization

    This course covers some of the main topics in Fiscal Federalism, broadly defined as the research area dealing with public economics issues arising in settings where different layers of government coexist (i.e., federal, regional and local governments).

    The course introduces the student to the advantages and disadvantages of fiscal decentralization. The course covers (i) normative analyses that allocate government spending and taxing responsibilities efficiently across layers of government assuming benevolent governments, and (ii) political economy models and considerations that affect the benefits and costs of decentralization.

    Some of the analyzed topics include the optimal size of jurisdictions to provide public goods and services, the determinants and effects of intergovernmental grants, tax base mobility and tax competition among governments, the effects of bailout expectations in public deficits and debt accumulation or how income and preference differences in public goods and services create segregation and shape the geography of cities.


    1. Public finance in a federal system
      1. 1.1. Assignment of spending responsibilities to different layers of government
      2. 1.2. Revenue assignment to the different layers of government
    2. Intergovernmental grants
      1. 2.1. The role of intergovernmental grants
      2. 2.2. Unconditional grants
      3. 2.3. Conditional grants
      4. 2.4. Equalization grants
    3. Fiscal decentralization and public debt
      1. 3.1. Bailout expectations and subcentral public debt
      2. 3.2. Empirics
        1. 3.2.1. The effects of bailout expectations on fiscal discipline
        2. 3.2.2. Bailout expectations and the relative size of jurisdictions
    4. Demand for local public goods and services and residential sorting
      1. 4.1. The demand for local public goods and services
      2. 4.2. Public goods, social interactions and residential sorting
    5. Tax competition
      1. 5.1. Theories of tax competition
      2. 5.2. Empirics of tax competition
  • Urban Political Economy

    The course introduces students to the economics and politics of cities. The first part of the course begins with an overview of attempts to understand how cities work. What explains the existence, growth and decline of cities? What explains the hierarchy of cities and the form of each city? In the following lessons, we explore some urban policies that can be used to address city problems: land use regulations, local public finance and place-based policies, especially those dealing with segregation and housing problems. The second part of the course tries to understand the workings of local politics. We focus the role of mobility in constraining the design of policies. After that, we move to local elections, analyzing instances where they fail to work (political machines and capture by economic interests). Finally, we look at the role of institutions, studying the role of managers v. politicians or the influence of upper layers of government.


    1. Why cities? Existence, growth and decline.
    2. Agglomeration economies: productivity and amenities
    3. Hierarchy of cities and urban form
    4. Urban policies: land-use regulations and local public finance
    5. Urban policies: place-based policies, segregation and housing
    6. Mobility and local policies: do we really need politics?
    7. Urban political machines: do local elections work?
    8. The role of economic interests in city politics
    9. Local political institutions: politicians or managers?
    10. Intergovernmental relations: cooperation or competition?
  • Economic History topics I: Economic history of developing regions

    The aim of this subject is to analyze the causes and conditions of economic backwardness of peripheral regions, the mechanisms that generate economic backwardness and the diversity of cases to which it gives rise, the evolution personal and regional inequality throughout the process of economic development, as well as to critically analyze historical-economic sources on developing countries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


    1. Theoretical framework
      1. 1.1. Extractive Institutions in the Periphery
      2. 1.2. Natural Resources: curse or blessing?
      3. 1.3. Trade and Growth of the Periphery
    2. Latin American Economic History
      1. 2.1. Colonial Heritage and the lost decades of the Independence
      2. 2.2. The First Globalization Era
      3. 2.3. The ISI Growth model and the Washington Consensus
    3. African Economic History
      1. 3.1. Paths of Development: Resources, Technologies, State Formation, and Property Rights
      2. 3.2. Pre-Colonial Africa, The Slave Trade, Colonial Rule and Post-Independence
      3. 3.3. The New Economic History of Africa
  • Economic History topics II: Market formation in history

    The aim of the course is to provide students with an overview of the main themes in the history of financial and labour markets. The course takes a long run approach, from the 19th century until today, and a wide focus that includes case studies from a range of different countries and regions. The underlying common theme of the course is the evolution of financial and labour markets and their interactions with the different waves of globalization, emphasizing the role of political economy.


      Part I: Financial markets
    1. Debt and default: sovereign debt markets in the long run
    2. Currency politics: the international monetary system and the political economy of exchange rates in history
    3. Reserve currencies: from Sterling to Dollar dominance
    4. Financial crises, from 1866 to Covid-19: causes, mechanisms, consequences
    5. The politics of central banking: independence and neutrality
    6. The political economy of financial regulation
      Part II: Labour markets
    1. Characteristics of pre-industrial labour markets
    2. Changes in the labour market during the Industrial Revolution
    3. The impact of the first globalization on global labour markets
    4. Labour regulation and expansion of human capital during the twentieth century
    5. Labour markets during the second globalization
    6. Labour market and inequality in the long term (1800-2020)
  • Welfare Economics

    The course will introduce students to both the theoretical and empirical fundamentals of health economics, education economics and other topics on welfare economics and their applications. One of the main goals of the course will be to make students able to identify the main problems of the healthcare and educational sector, and other welfare issues and how to tackle them using analytical tools. The course will make special emphasis in students acquiring training in the application of quantitative analysis to issues related to health, healthcare, education policy and, more generally, to other welfare issues.


    1. Education and other welfare issues
      1. 1.1. Monetary benefits of education (I): Education and economic growth
      2. 1.2. Monetary benefits of education (II): Education and the labour market
      3. 1.3. Economic incentives in a model of crime
      4. 1.4. Non-monetary benefits of education: Crime and other issues
      5. 1.5. The role of social interactions
      6. 1.6. Education and welfare policies
    2. Health
      1. 2.1. Introduction: the discipline of health economics
      2. 2.2. Measurement of health. Health production function
      3. 2.3. Macroeconomic aspects: healthcare expenditures and economic cycles
      4. 2.4. Demand for health and healthcare
      5. 2.5. Justification for government intervention: Equity aspects
      6. 2.6. Healthcare systems
      7. 2.7. Supply of medical and hospital services
      8. 2.8. Market of pharmaceutical products
  • Macroeconomics

    This course will introduce the basic tools of macroeconomic analysis, with a specific focus on economic growth and income distribution. The course will focus on the Solow and Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans models of economic growth and will provide the basic tools for the macroeconomic analysis of technological change, the role of human capital or taxation. It will also introduce students to the use of Matlab as a tool for numerical simulations.


    1. The Solow model
      1. 1.1. Main stylized facts about economic growth and income distribution
      2. 1.2. The Solow model
      3. 1.3. Extension of the Solow model: technological progress
      4. 1.4. Further extensions of the Solow model
    2. The Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans model
      1. 2.1. Foundations of neoclassical growth
      2. 2.2. The Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans model
      3. 2.3. Analysis of the Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans model
        1. 2.3.1. Steady-state and transition dynamics
        2. 2.3.2. Simulation of the Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans model in Matlab
      4. 2.4. Extensions of the Ramsey/Cass-Koopmans model (technology change, human capital, taxation)
  • Advanced research methods

    This course offers an introduction to advanced research methods in social sciences. The topics covered include some of the prominent techniques in machine learning and computational social science research, such as Network Analysis, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The course also provides a practical introduction to Field Experiments and Questionnaire Design, as well as an overview of the possibilities that case studies and process-tracing offer for exploratory qualitative research. The sessions related to computational research will be mostly based on the software environment R. The course starts with an introduction to some of the basic elements of this widely used programming language, so no prior knowledge is required.


    1. Introduction to machine learning in social science research
    2. Network Analysis
    3. Natural Language Processing (NLP)
    4. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
    5. Randomized Experimental Design
    6. Questionnaire Design
    7. Case selection and causal inference in case studies

Research dissertation

The last semester will be destined entirely to the completion of a Dissertation (or Master Thesis) that will ideally lead to the publication of a peer-reviewed article. The student will have worked on the Dissertation project during the previous semesters in various workshops and courses, and will have been assigned an advisor that fits the field and the topic chosen sufficiently in advance.