Public Finance

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General course information and requirements

Semester: Fall 2010
Course: Economics 331, Public Finance, section 1 (3 credits)
Instructor: Dr. Stonebraker
Office: 401 Thurmond
Office phone: 323-2488
E-mail address:
Office hours: MW 1-2 p.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m., TR 9-11 a.m.
                       Other times are available by appointment.


After completing this course, students should be able to:
  1. Describe the major tax and expenditure items of the U.S. government.
  2. Discuss the economic rationale for government involvement in the economy.
  3. Apply economic analysis to political decision making.
  4. Discuss the impact of taxes on efficiency and equity in the economy.
  5. Analyze current issues in public finance.


Public Finance and Public Policy, by Jonathan Gruber, 3rd edition, Worth Publishers, 2010. The website for the textbook ( contains chapter outlines, flash cards for key terms, power point slides for each chapter and, for those willing to register, self-testing quizzes.
Grading will be straight letter grades: no plusses or minuses. Four exams will determine 92% of your grade. A paper will determine the remaining 8% of your grade. The weight for each assignment is:


Exam questions will stress analysis rather than factual information and will be based on the material presented in class. You will be expected to write short essay/explanation answers and to solve graphical and numerical problems. Students caught copying/cheating will be dealt with harshly.  The final exam will be given at 8 a.m. on Friday, December 10 and will include some specified review material. You may use non-programmable calculators during exams, but graphing calculators, cell phone calculators or other programmable calculators are NOT allowed.

The approximate grading scale for exams will be:

        90 - 100%      A
        76 - 89%        B
        64 - 75%        C
        54 - 63%        D
          0 - 53%        F

Make-up policy:

Make-up exams will be given to students with what I judge to be a valid excuse. Needing more time to study is not a valid excuse. If you cannot make an exam I expect to be notified as quickly as possible, preferably before the exam. Students who do not notify me in a timely manner should not expect a make-up exam.


In addition to exams, a short paper and presentation will determine 8% of your grade.  For details, click on the assignment.
Class participation:
Each student automatically begins with four participation points added to their final course average.  Students who attend regularly, come to class on time, and pay attention will keep these points throughout the semester.  Students who miss classes without good cause, who often come late, who sleep during class, who use their cell phones during class, who read or study non-class material during class, or who exhibit other problems of attentiveness will lose points. 
Attendance policy:
You should attend every class on time and are responsible for all class material whether or not you attend. Students with multiple absences run the risk of losing participation points. In addition, following the Winthrop University Attendance Policy, students missing as many as 1/4 of the classes who do not withdraw by the deadline will receive a grade of F, or U, whichever is appropriate.
Course withdrawal:
Friday, October 22 is last day to withdraw from a full fall semester course.  (Automatic N grade is issued.)  Students may not withdraw from a course after this date without documented extenuating circumstances.
Students with disabilities:
Winthrop University is dedicated to providing access to education.  If you have a disability and need classroom accommodations, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 323-3290 as soon as possible.  Once you have your Professor Notification Form, please tell me so that I am aware of your accommodations well before the first assignment.

Click here for password-protected answers to problems.


Course Outline

I.   Introduction: Overview of Government Finance
A. Revenue and expenditures
     Chapter 1
B. Deficits and debt
     Chapter 4
II.  Theory of Government Economic Activity
A. Markets and economic efficiency
     Chapter 2
Exam #1: Approximately Friday, September 17
B. Externalities and public goods
     Chapters 5 (omit section 5.4 on pp. 137-146) and 7
C. Public choice
     Chapter 9
III.  Government Activities: Uses of Funds
A. Education
     Chapter 11
Exam #2: Approximately Wednesday, October 13
B. Social insurance
     Chapters 12 and 13
C. Health care
     Chapters 15 and 16
IV.  Government Activities: Sources of Funds
A. Taxation in the U.S. and around the world
     Chapter 18

Exam #3: Approximately Monday, November 15

B. Tax fairness and efficiency
      Chapters19 and 20 (omit section 20.4 on pp. 611-616)
     Positional Externalities
C. Taxes on labor
     Chapter 21
D. Taxes on savings
     Chapter 22
E. Tax reform
     Chapter 25
V.  Issues in Public Finance (if you are lucky)
A. Taxes on wealth
     Chapter 23
B. Income redistribution and welfare
     Chapter 17
Exam #4: Final exam: Friday, December 10

Last modified 06/25/15