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Crawford School of Public Policy

Beginner’s Guide to Microeconomics for the Public Sector

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Course participants will develop an understanding of the key insights from economics and how they can be applied in policy and government settings. The economic approach to understanding decision-making will be examined in detail with special attention paid to key concepts such as: opportunity cost; incentives; trade-offs; markets and market failure. A key aspect of the course is developing a framework to think about how to blend markets with government to achieve the best outcomes for society. The importance of government in a strong modern economy is emphasised. We consider “good” and “bad” government intervention and provide participants with tools to determine what kinds of government intervention might be appropriate (or inappropriate) in their particular sector.

Course overview

Microeconomics analyses the behaviour of individual consumers, households and firms. It provides a framework for understanding decision-making by all of these agents in the economy. It examines motivations, incentives and decision-making processes. While its direct relevance to businesses is well understood, the insights and solutions that can be gained from microeconomics are equally important for the public sector. Successful policy design and implementation is greatly facilitated by a solid understanding of the responses and reactions of those influenced by policy.

This one-day course takes you through all the basic concepts of microeconomics including: trade-offs; marginal analysis; incentives; cost-benefit analysis; opportunity cost; market efficiency, inefficiency and failure; firm behaviour. The course uses role plays and case studies. Competing viewpoints will be presented.

The role of government, competition, monopolies and regulation, and state versus market decisions will also be explored in the course.

If you have ever wondered about what economists really mean when they talk about opportunity costs, externalities, comparative advantage and public goods, this course is for you.

This course is paired with a beginner’s course in macroeconomics. Because they are inter-related, it is recommended you attend both courses.

Core topics

  • Key insights and introduction to the economic way of thinking
  • Markets and prices: demand, supply and elasticities
  • Government intervention: price controls
  • Government intervention: taxes
  • Government intervention: market failure, externalities and public goods
  • Summary: role of government

Students will learn:

  • Key insights from economics
  • Application of those key insights to government and policy-making
  • The role of markets and the importance of prices
  • Why economists believe that markets create value for society
  • Why economists worry about interfering in markets
  • What is market failure and what economists think should be done about market failure
  • The main types of market failure: market power, externalities, public goods, missing insurance markets and asymmetric information
  • The costs and benefits of taxation and how to think about optimal taxation
  • An economic framework for thinking about “good” and “bad” government intervention
  • An economic framework for thinking about the role of government in the economy

We finish the day by drawing it all together to think about how to blend the role of government with markets so that, as a society, we can reap the benefits of what markets have to offer and reap the benefits that government has to offer by bringing the two together, using the best of both.

Who should attend

This course is designed for individuals at any level of their career who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of basic economics and its usefulness and application to policy issues. The course is designed for those with no economics background.


Robert Breunig is the director of the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at the Crawford School of Public Policy. From 2015 to 2016 he was the Director of the Crawford School of Public Policy. Professor Breunig is one of Australia’s leading Public Policy Economists. He has published in over 50 in...
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