17.317 | Spring 2006 | Undergraduate

U.S. Social Policy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Overview

This class is divided into four sections, each of which is illustrated with case studies of various social programs. We open by discussing cultural and institutional reasons for American exceptionalism in social policy, using the case of health insurance. In the second part of the class, we begin studying policy inputs with a focus on the mass public: defining political participation, studying subgroup differences in participation rates, exploring the origins of political preferences, examining patterns of interest group organization, and discussing the nature of representative government and the theoretical relationship between participation and representation. In the third part of the course we turn to the policymaking process, studying how problems come onto the political agenda and how Congress, the courts, and the bureaucracy shape policy. Fourth, we study policy in practice: how policies are implemented; how their designs shape client experiences and subsequent policy outcomes; where we draw the line between public and private provision; and with a few final case studies how the working years, gender, and human capital formation (education) are treated by U.S. social policy. We conclude by speculating about the likely course of American social policy in the future.


Grades will be earned on the following basis:

Class Participation 20%
Intermediate Projects (Assignments 1-4) 20%
Final Paper 60%

Students are expected to complete the intermediate projects, each of which is a stage in preparing the final research paper. For the research paper, students will choose a policy area and examine the course of policymaking - what factors led to the policy outcome that was achieved? The final paper (20-25 pages, double-spaced, 12-point type) is due 2 days after Lec #25 at 5:00 pm at my office. Students will also take turns writing discussion questions and helping to lead class discussion (3-4 times during the semester, depending on enrollment). These efforts will be part of the seminar participation grade. The discussion questions should be emailed to the class by 5:00 pm the evening before your assigned day.


1 Introduction

Part I: American Exceptionalism and a Case: Why No National Health Insurance in the United States?
2-3 U.S. Health Policy

Part II: Preferences, Participation, and Representation
4 Who Participates?

5 Who Gets Represented? The Case of Social Security

6 Who Gets Represented? The Case of Tax Cuts and Other Policies

7 Interest Groups I

8 Interest Groups II: Business vs. Labor

9-10 Public Opinion and Preference Formation: The Case of Universal vs. Targeted Programs

Part III: The Policy-Making Process
11 Problem Definition and Agenda Setting I: The Case of Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage

12 Problem Definition and Agenda Setting II Assignment 1 due: Select issue area for research paper
13 Policy-Relevant Institutions: Congress I

14 Policy-Relevant Institutions: Congress II; The Case of the Hidden Welfare State Assignment 2 due: List at least five sources
15 Policy-Relevant Institutions: The Courts; The Case of Welfare Rights

Part IV: Policy in Practice
16 Implementation: The Case of Rehabilitation in Prison Assignment 3 due: Write paragraph on actors in your issue area
17 Policy Design

18 The Consequences of Policy Design: The Cases of Welfare and the G.I. Bill

19 Public-Private Relations Assignment 4 due 2 days after Lec #19: 8-10 pages on opinion and participation in your issue area
20 The Working Years: Unemployment, Disability Insurance, and the EITC

21 Gender in U.S. Social Policy: The Case of Family and Medical Leave

22 Education Policy: Vouchers

23 Education Policy: Federal College Loans

24-25 Course Conclusion: The Future of American Social Policy Assignment 5 due 2 days after Lec #25: Final paper due