Political Science 320 B, Fall 2013
Lecture 2: Overview of Public Policy in the US
September 11, 2012
-- Sit in a seat you like. We will try to keep same seats (so I can
use a seating chart to learn names).
Sign up for seating (count rows from the front, seats from right,
and combine: 3 row, second seat is 302.) No sitting in last
-- Syllabus: Will send today. Some readings details not yet
-- Next assignment and key dates for course. Coming by email
and posted to website. (Email will say when website is
-- How to take notes: Type or handwrite. Use a few words to
reference the posted notes. Make comments on additional
material of interest. (Usually, just occasional notes, because my
notes are extensive.) LECTURE:
OVERVIEW OF PUBLIC POLICY IN THE US
What is Public Policy?
Growth of Government
Instruments of Policy
Types of Programs
Role of the States
I. What is Public Policy?
Public policy is not easy to define. My rough definition:
A public policy is a formally adopted decision concerning the
on-going actions of government, directed toward the public,
other countries, or the physical environment. It is intended to
affect the conditions of the society and the lives of citizens, not
merely internal structures or operations of government.
(The concept of policy does not indicate any particular
level of generality, importance, or permanence. Policies vary
enormously on these dimensions: Policy of religious freedom,
or policy of charging 85 cents for a postage stamp. Additional attributes:
-- policy is general and on-going: E.g., Dept of Justice
challenged a proposed merger of AT&T with T-Mobile, alleging
antitrust violation. This was a one-time action, even though
large and important. Do we say opposing the suit is “policy of
the government?” Not usually—rather, perhaps, “policy is to
block mergers between biggest companies in a concentrated
-- policy is authorized, legitimated (by a law or a
regulation). Not, Dept of Housing and Urban Development
makes grants for low-income housing to companies that
contribute to Dem party. That could be true (I made it up), but it
would not be called “policy.”
-- endless borderline issues: is the set of wage scales for
government employees a policy (although directed toward
internal operations)? Is fighting a war in Afghanistan a policy?
Don’t worry about fine distinctions, what counts as policy.
II. Growth of Government
Framers’ objective: very limited government, especially
for federal. (“Framers”—those who wrote the constitution.
Role of fed govt in early 19 Century: regulate commerce
(tariffs on imports); relations with “Indians” (native Americans);
internal improvements—e.g. dams, canals. Postal service. Major periods of growth of government (with a few leading
examples from each period):
- Progressive era (1890s-1920). Regulation of railroads
and banks, antitrust policy.
- New Deal (1932-1940). Social security; agriculture
programs; regulation of securities, airlines, radio, prescription
-- Post WWII (late 1940s-1950s): a national security state:
large standing military; Central Intelligence Agency. Also: full
employment act (1946)—makes it official policy that fed govt is
responsible for economic stability. Federal highway program.
-- Great Society (1960s): Anti-poverty programs; urban
renewal; public housing; civil rights (laws versus racial
discrimination). Medicare—health care for aged.
-- 1970s: environmental regulation (Clean Air Act of
1970); water, toxic substances, hazardous waste.
-- 2000s: expansion of health care (Medicare Rx coverage,
Obama health care); expansion of financial regulation; financial
bailout and auto industry bailout.
-- Issue for speculation: what’s next? Are there potential
areas of future growth of government?
III. Instruments of Policy
Govt policy involves one or more a several “instruments.”
That is, methods of acting. Important: for a given objective,
there are often alternative instruments. ASK: What can a govt official do that will change
something about society or the world? Imagine writing a law to
fix something. Discuss: Someone mention a problem—
Regulation – impose and enforce an obligation or
prohibition on private citizens or others.
Provide a service, directly or by contracting.
Subsidy—give funds to support some private activity (pays
part of cost). E.g federal subsidy for state sewer projects.
Taxation – e.g. gasoline, tobacco.
Distribute funds (as income, without restrictions—e.g.
Possible additional example: unemployment. (Exercise for the
student: Key point: for any given purpose, one instrument may
work better than another. Example of environmental protection.
- regulation: specify equipment required
- regulation (different kind): specify emission levels
- taxation: charge a tax per unit of emissions
IV. Types of Programs (by substantive focus or objective)
Mention several types, plus examples.
Economic stabilization—efforts to maintain growth,
employment, price stability.
Business regulation -- Securities and Exchange
Commission (stock and bond markets), Federal
Communications Commission (radio and TV spectrum—
“wardrobe malfunctions”), Food and Drug Administration
(largest), Environmental Protection Agency.
Social services – mental health programs, family