SOCS 635
Problems and Prospects of Social Engineering

Marc Eisner

Course Description

Public policy is best defined as a pattern of purposive public action. This course provides a broad overview of several important public policies and explores the underlying dynamics of the policy process with the goal of addressing several enduring problems. For example, we will examine criminal justice to better understand how competing models of human behavior impact on policy design. We will explore educational policy to better appreciate the potential role of institutional design (e.g., the debates over vouchers). Macroeconomic policy will provide a context for understanding what happens when models or the underlying policy problems change dramatically in response to policy failure. Social welfare will allow us a window into the problems of perverse incentives and unintended consequences. Social security and Medicare will provide an opportunity for appreciating the impact of large demographic trends. Environmental policy will allow us to consider how policies can be "reinvented" as a means of allowing for new approaches to vexing problems like acid rain. Finally, we will turn to emerging regulatory issues - with a focus on nanotechnology - to reflect on what happens when policy problems are highly complex and dynamic and thus difficult to address with standard policy instruments.

During the semester, we will examine a number of cases in greater detail. Some of these cases (e.g., assertive policing in New York, prison mentoring, school vouchers, Medicare modernization, the regulation of acid rain, and decisions regarding arsenic standards) will draw on Harvard Kennedy School case studies. Others (e.g., Progressive Era eugenics, welfare reform, and the sub-prime crisis) will be developed using a combination of scholarly research and government reports. In each instance, the cause studies will provide a means of deepening our understanding of the problems and tensions inherent in making and implementing public policy.

Course Readings
The following Harvard Kennedy School Case Studies are assigned:

1509.0 The Cleveland School Voucher Program

1510.0 The Cleveland School Voucher Program

1514.0 Cleaning up the "Big Dirties"

1518.0 Prison Fellowship Ministries (B)

1530.0 Assertive Policing, Plummeting Crime

1680.0 Arsenic in Drinking Water

1870.0 Keeping a Campaign Promise

They can be ordered directly online as downloads (academic rate:

Course Grade
Case Analyses (3 worth 20% each)     60%

Introduction of readings                       10%

Final essay                                          30%

Case Analyses: The course makes use of the case method. On several occasions during the semester, we will devote a session to the analysis of a case study on a public policy. On three occasions, you will be required to respond to a written question involving a specific case. Solving cases can be time consuming because a critical piece of information may be buried in the case or missing altogether, forcing students to make plausible assumptions. The maximum length of a case analysis will be two pages (single-spaced, 12-point font). In order to produce a quality analysis, you will need to come to class prepared to discuss the case. The case analyses will be due at the end of the day, one week after the assigned discussion date. You will not be permitted to submit a case analysis if you were absent from the class on the day it was discussed. All members of the class must complete case study 1 and/or case study 2.

Introduction of Readings: On one occasion, each member of the class will introduce the readings for the week. This presentation, not to exceed ten minutes, will involve identifying the core arguments and posing some questions for discussion. The presentation should be supported by a one-page handout listing questions.

Final Essay: The final essay for the course (10 pages, double spaced) will provide an opportunity for participants to develop an argument regarding the factors that facilitate and impede successful public policy. A detailed question will be distributed in class.

Note: This is a paper-free course. All written work must be submitted via email as a Microsoft Word attachment (or in rich text format if using another word processing program).

Course Schedule
Session 1 (9/8)

Introduction: What is Public Policy?

Session 2 (9/15)

A Primer on Public Policy and the Policy Process

2.1 Understanding the Policy Process

Paul A. Sabatier, "Toward Better Theories of the Policy Process." PS: Political Science and Politics, 24, 2. (1991): 147-156. Blackboard.

Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, "Behavioral Assumptions of Policy Tools." The Journal of Politics, 52, 2. (1990): 510-529. Blackboard

Michael Howlett, "Beyond Good and Evil in Policy Implementation: Instrument Mixes, Implementation Styles and Second Generation Theories of Policy Instrument Choice." Policy and Society 23, 2 (2004): 1-17. Blackboard

2.2 Critical Perspectives

Richard O. Zerbe Jr. and Howard McCurdy, "The End of Market Failure." Regulation, 23, 2 (2001): 10-14. Blackboard

Bruce Yandle, "Bootleggers and Baptists in Retrospect" Regulation, 22, 3 (1999). Blackboard.

Jonathan Rauch, "Demosclerosis." National Journal (1992).

Jonathan Adler, "Rent Seeking Behind the Green Curtain." Regulation, 19, 4 (1996).

Peter G. Peterson, "Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It."

Presentation to the Institute for International Economics, August 9, 2004.

Session 3 (9/22) Public Policy in Historical Context

3.1 The Rise of the Interventionist State

Thomas G. West and William A. Schambra, "The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics." Heritage Foundation First Principles Series, July 18, 2007.

Morton Keller, "Governance and Democracy: Public Policy in Modern America." Journal of Policy History, 20, 1 (2008). Blackboard.

Robert Higgs, "Regime Uncertainty: Why the Great Depression Lasted So Long and Why Prosperity Returned After the War." The Independent Review, 1, 4 (1997): 561-90.

Paul Light, "Fact Sheet on the Continued Thickening of Government." Brookings Institution (2004).

Session 4 (9/29)

Criminal Justice, Human Nature, and the Environment

4.1 Competing Perspectives on Criminality

Gary S. Becker, "Nobel Lecture: The Economic Way of Looking at Behavior." The Journal of Political Economy, 101, 3. (1993): 385-409. Blackboard.

John J. DiIulio, Jr. "Help Wanted: Economists, Crime and Public Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10 (1996): 3-24. Blackboard

Ruth D. Peterson and Lauren J. Krivo, "Macrostructural Analyses of Race, Ethnicity, and Violent Crime: Recent Lessons and New Directions for Research." Annual Review of Sociology, 31 (March 2005): 331-356. Blackboard

4.2 Eugenics and the Prevention of Criminality

Thomas C. Leonard, "Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19, 4 (2005): 207-224. Blackboard

Ian Robert Dowbiggin, "A Rational Coalition: Euthanasia, Eugenics, and Birth Control in America, 1940-1970." Journal of Policy History, 14, 3 (2002): 223-60. Blackboard

Edwin Black, "Ethnic Cleansing in Connecticut."

Edwin Black, "Hitler Made Eugenics Famous, But He Took It From the United States."

Session 5 (10/6) Alternative Approaches to Criminality

5.1 Case Study of New York and Compstat

1530.0 Assertive Policing, Plummeting Crime

5.2 Case Study of Prison Fellowship Ministries

1518.0 Prison Fellowship Ministries (B)

Session 6 (10/13) Education and Institutional Design

6.1 From School Choice to No Child Left Behind

OECD Briefing Note for the United States (2006). Blackboard

Milton Friedman, "The Role of Government in Education." (1955)

Joseph P. Vitteritti, "School Choice: How an Abstract Idea Became a Political Reality." Brookings Papers on Education Policy: 2005: 137-73. Blackboard

U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, A Guide to Education and No Child Left Behind (2004).

Kevin Carey, "The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act." Washington, DC: The Education Sector, November 2007.

6.2 Case Study of School Choice

1509.0 and 1510.0 "The Cleveland School Voucher Program" (A) and (B)

Recommended: Caroline M. Hoxby, "School Choice and School Productivity (Or Could School Choice be a Tide That Lifts All Boats?). Working Paper 8873 (2002)

Session 7 (10/20) Markets, Models and the Fatal Conceit

7.1 The Rise and Fall of the Keynesian Consensus

Don Lavoie, "Economic Chaos or Spontaneous Order? Implications for Political Economy of the New View of Science." Cato Journal 8 (1989): 613-35. Blackboard

Alan S. Blinder, "Keynesian Economics." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

J. Bradford De Long, "Keynesianism, Pennsylvania Avenue Style: Some Economic Consequences of the Employment Act of 1946." The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10, 3 (1996): 41-53. Blackboard

James D. Gwartney, "Supply Side Economics." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

James Tobin, "The Conservative Counter-Revolution in Economic Policy." The Journal of Economic Education, 14, 1. (1983): 30-39. Blackboard

7.2 The Sub-Prime Crisis and the Costs of Neoliberalism

Economic Report of the President (2008), chapter 2.

Additional Readings TBA

Session 8 (11/3) Welfare, Perverse Incentives, and Unintended Consequences

8.1 The American Welfare State

James Mahmud Rice, Robert E. Goodin, and Antti Parpo, "The Temporal Welfare State: A Crossnational Comparison." Journal of Public Policy, 26, 3 (2006): 195-228. Blackboard

G. John Ikenberry and Theda Skocpol, "Expanding Social Benefits: The Role of Social Security." Political Science Quarterly, 102, 3, (1987): 389-416. Blackboard

Christopher Howard, "The Hidden State of the American Welfare State." Political Science Quarterly, 108, 3 (Autumn, 1993): 403-436. Blackboard

8.2 Reforming Poor People

Charles Murray, The Underclass Revisited. (American Enterprise Institute, 1999).

Charles Noble, "The Never Ending War on the Welfare State." Logos 3.2 (Spring 2004). Blackboard

Health and Human Services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Seventh Annual Report to Congress, Executive Summary.

Session 9 (11/10) Social Security, Medicare, and Demographics as Destiny

9.1 Program Design and Demographics

Will Wilkinson, "Noble Lies, Liberal Purposes, and Personal Retirement Accounts." Cato Social Security Choice Paper no. 34 (June 28, 2005).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 65+ in the United States: 2005. Read pp. 1-32, 183.

David M. Walker, "Long-Term Budget Outlook: Saving Our Future Requires Tough Choices Today." Testimony before the Committee on the Budget, U.S. Senate (January 11, 2007).

9.2. Case Study of Medicare Modernization

1870.0 "Keeping a Campaign Promise: George W. Bush and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage."

Session 10 (11/17) Reinventing the Regulation of the Environment

10.1 Environmental Policy and Politics in Transition

Daniel J. Fiorino, "Environmental Policy as Learning: A New View of an Old Landscape." Public Administration Review, 61, 3. (2001): 322-334.

Marc Allen Eisner, "Corporate Environmentalism, Regulatory Reform, and Industry Self-Regulation: Toward Genuine Regulatory Reinvention in the United States." Governance, 17, 2 (2004): 145-68.

Patrick Parenteau, "Anything Industry Wants: Environmental Policy Under Bush II" Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum, 14 (2004): 363-405.

10.2 Case Study of Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990

1514.0 "Cleaning up the "Big Dirties": The Problem of Acid Rain."

Session 11 (12/1) Regulating Complexity

12.1 Case Study of George W. Bush and Arsenic Regulation

1680.0 "Arsenic in Drinking Water."

12.2 Emerging Challenges: Nanotechnology

Robin Fretwell Wilson, "Nanotechnology: The Challenge of Regulating Known Unknowns." Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 34, 4 (Winter 2006): 704-13.

J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, May 2007).

Session 12 (12/8) Course Conclusion