Theory and Field Experiments in Political Economy

December 2009

Political economy is a fast-progressing field in economics that analyzes political actions as the result of economic choices by agents in the political sphere. Robust theories that allow us to predict the actions of individuals in political institutions will make it possible for us to devise ways to improve these institutions by reducing corruption, widening participation in the political process, and allowing better and more effective representation of voters.

However, uniting theory and empirical work to produce robust scientific evidence is one of the most difficult challenges in economics. Unlike in the physical sciences, laboratory experiments in economics often have limited relevance because the artificiality of the situation and constant observation can easily skew experimental results. A more reliable way to prove theory, to the point where it can be used to reliably influence policy, is via thorough field-testing of theoretical predictions in a variety of real situations.

Our intent in organizing this seminar is to bring together theorists and empirical researchers (and some researchers already involved in both theoretical and empirical work) to examine which new theoretical predictions in political economy might be open to empirical testing in the field.