Logo Doctoral Certificate Program in Agricultural Economics Deutsch
Course of Study

Module 2400
The political economy of agriculture in high-income countries


Professor Dr Thomas Herzfeld (herzfeld@iamo.de) is head of the Department Agricultural Policy and taught courses in Agricultural and Food Policy, Microeconomics, and Economic Modelling at Universities in Kiel, Wageningen and Halle-Wittenberg.
Dr Bettina Bluemling (bluemling@iamo.de) is IAMO Research fellow and taught courses in Environmental Policy, Institutional Economics, Environment and Development, as well as on methods for Interdisciplinary Research at Wageningen University.
Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO), Theodor-Lieser-Str. 2, 06120 Halle.

Course Description

Agricultural economists quite often concentrate on the analysis of the impact of agricultural and environmental policies on producers, consumers and taxpayers. But why do these policies exist and are implemented in a specific way, how do policies change and what are the drivers of change? It is the aim of this module to introduce students to a range of political economic theories. Participants will be introduced to theoretical models which assume rational decision making of agents as well as theories which put this assumption in perspective. Agents’ limited capacity of acting rationally, e.g. due to a lack of information and complexity of information, has been more and more recognised in theories in economics as well as political sciences. Theoretical concepts will be applied to problems in agricultural markets ranging from the introduction of new technologies like GMO, investments in intensive livestock farming or slaughterhouses, to agricultural trade. Examples from the context of advanced industrialised as well as transition countries will be provided.

Learning objectives

In this module, students will

Course Outline

The course consists of lectures, individual assignments and one simulation. In a simulation, a real-world situation is recreated in which participants take up different roles in order to explore key mechanisms that are at work in such a situation. After the simulation, different theoretical approaches will be presented and discussed in their applicability to phenomena in the simulation. In the end, each participant will write a paper based on the simulation and the theoretical approaches introduced.

Organization and time

This is a one week block course which will be held at IAMO. There are some preparatory tasks to be fulfilled before the course takes place and one assignment after the course took place.

  1. Before the course
    Four weeks before the module starts, participants will be sent an outline of the different stakeholders in the simulation. They are asked to send a brief introduction to their educational background and a short motivation for favouring a certain role in the simulation. They will then be allocated a role, which they fulfil together with another PhD student. The team of two will prepare a role strategy before the course begins, which they send to the lecturers one week in advance.
  2. One week module
  3. 2.1.        Introduction to the course
    The course will start with introductory lectures in the morning of the first day, providing an overview of the origins of political economics, the context for the simulation and the theories that will be discussed in the second half of the module.

    2.2.        Simulation
    The simulation lasts 1.5 days. The starting point of the simulation is, on the one hand, that decision-making in agricultural economics takes place in a context where stakeholders use political instruments and narratives to influence agricultural investment. On the other hand, societal stakeholders and policies determine if and which kind of information is available, how stable preference ordering can be, or the transaction costs for undertaking an economic activity.  A simulation allows players to experience the mechanisms that are at hand when an agricultural investment decision shall be taken. GMO crops or energy crops, investment in intensive livestock farming or slaughterhouses are just some examples for situations when decision-making in agriculture is closely interlinked with other societal stakeholders and politics.
    At the end of the simulation, each participant will write a debriefing of the simulation. The debriefing will be graded.

    2.3.        Lectures
    The second part of the course takes 2.5 days, and consists of lectures on

    • Tools of political economics
    • Political economic models and theories of agricultural policies (e.g. Voting models, Interest group models, Models of bureaucracy, Policy games)
    • Constructionism and its use in agricultural economics and political sciences
    • New institutional economics theories in the agricultural economics and political sciences

    Students will discuss academic papers with applications of the theory which have to be read before.

    2.4.        Core literature

    • Anderson, K., ed. 2010. The Political Economy of Agricultural Price Distortions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Anderson, K., G.C. Rausser, and J.F.M. Swinnen. 2013. "Political Economy of Public Policies: Insights from Distortions to Agricultural and Food Markets." Journal of Economic Literature 51(2): 423-477.
    • Sheingate, A.D. 2001. The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press.
    • Van der Zee, F. 1997. Political Economy Models and Agricultural Policy Formation: Empirical Applicability and Relevance for the CAP. Wageningen: Mansholt Institute.
    • Exemplary case on the use of a simulation in agro-environmental contexts:
      Stefanska, J., P. Magnuszewski, J. Sendzimir, P. Romaniuk, T. Taillieu, A. Dubel, Z. Flachner, and P. Balogh. 2011. “A Gaming Exercise to Explore Problem-Solving versus Relational Activities for River Floodplain Management.” Environmental Policy and Governance 21: 454–471.
  4. After the course
    Students will be asked to hand in a paper four weeks after the module has taken place. In the paper, they will use the simulation to discuss how to analytically distinguish a certain empirical phenomenon with the help of different theoretical approaches.

Teaching methods

Simulation (15%), Lectures (35%), Individual learning, (50%)


Each participant will receive a certificate of attendance. To obtain full credits, students have to pass the following elements:

Credit points: 3


Microeconomics at an intermediate level (decision making under certainty and uncertainty, game theory).
Preparation of the simulation: Active participation in the simulation is required as the simulation will be the basis for further discussions of the theories taught in the lectures.

Language: English


The course takes place at Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO), Theodor-Lieser-Str. 2, 06120 Halle, Conference Room 2.