The Politics of Policy in the U.S.
Political Science 320B, 2013
Prof. Paul J. Quirk
Plans for Today
1) Introduce course topics and objectives.
2) Discuss requirements and assessment.
3) Explain outline of topics.
I Topics and Objectives
A. A Dire Assessment
“The Nixon era [1969-1974] was a time in which leading figures
in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy,
and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate
cash as they are now. America is a better country in many ways
than it was 35 years ago, but our political system’s ability to deal
with real problems has been degraded to such an extent that I
sometimes wonder whether the country is still governable.”
Paul Krugman, New York Times, August 31, 2009.
Is this true? How does it look four years later? (Discuss.) B. A dramatic statement of the issues: Public Policy is the
main test of a political system
We have various ideas about how political systems operate.
Some common ideas about US politics (and sometimes other
Government is controlled by business, or the wealthy.
-Politicians are “bought” by campaign contributions.
Government responds to the preferences of the public. (Two
-The public is intelligent and gets what it wants. OR
-The public is ill-informed and gets harmful or
Divided institutions (“separation-of-powers”) lead to
deadlock and incoherence.
What these ideas have in common:
They have clear implications for the nature of public policy, how
it is adopted, and how it changes. To understand these things,
study public policy making.
Example: If business controls government, we should see the policy changes are those preferred by business representatives,
benefit business, and harm others. Is this the story of the
2008-2009 financial bailout?
(Preview: I think that idea is simplistic.)
PQ observation: the study of the politics of public policy should
be the central focus for understanding the nature of a political
C. Questions of special interest for Canadians
1) Why the US health care system does not provide universal
coverage. (Or does it? Certain hospitals are obliged to gi