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POSC 386 Spring 2005

POSC 386 — American Public Policy Process
Section 52740
Spring 2005

Instructor: Michael Craw
Office: 219 Mather House
Office Hours: MW 9-10, 1:30-2:30 and by appointment
Mailbox: 110 Mather House
Office Phone: (216) 368-5265
Cell Phone: (812) 325-6042
Class Times: MWF 3:00 – 3:50
Room: Clark 308
Course Description

According to Otto von Bismarck, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” This is a short way of saying that policymaking is a messy business, involving multiple actors interacting in a fluid environment. Our main objective in this course is to make some sense of this process by adopting a common framework called political economy to analyze policy issues; breaking up our analysis into pieces we can work with; and applying what we learn to real policy dilemmas that American society faces. A second objective in this class will be to further develop your analytic, speaking and writing skills, all of which are of central importance in careers in law and public policy, and of importance in participating as a citizen in public policy debate. We shall meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will complete a series of readings on public policy theory and substantive policy issues that are on the agenda today. Second, we will analyze and discuss ideas on how public issues arise and how they are solved in class sessions. Finally, you will complete policy research project of your own, consisting of an in-depth analysis of one of the topics we will cover in this course.

The questions we will address in this course revolve around two fundamental dilemmas that societies face: collective action dilemmas and collective choice dilemmas. The study of collective action dilemmas focuses our attention on how public problems arise and what governments can do to solve them. In this half of the class we will discuss the causes of collective action problems; markets and market failures; federalism; and the criteria by which we evaluate public policy outcomes. Along the way, we will consider policy areas that involve these dilemmas and how policy attempts to resolve them.

The study of collective choice dilemmas focuses our attention on how societies choose public policies. Hence, we will learn about how government decision-makers are organized, how groups attempt to influence government decision-making, and how policy outcomes are determined. We will first consider the collective choice dilemmas we face when voting directly on policy outcomes, as exemplified by Arrow’s General Possibility Theorem. We will then move on to consider policymaking in our representative democracy, through legislatures, bureaucrats and interest groups. We will also discuss different frameworks for tying these actors together, including policy typologies, policy subsystems, and models of the policy process itself.


The easiest way to get in touch with me is by e-mail ( In addition, I will from time to time use e-mail to communicate information about the class (e.g. cancellations or changes in the reading assignments and class discussion topics). In general, I will send such messages to your Case e-mail account, and so if you do not have a Case e-mail account or you do not check it regularly, please see me as soon as possible. You may reach me at my cell phone number above during reasonable hours (before 11 p.m.). Or you may see me during my office hours or by making an appointment to see me.

Course Requirements and Grading

I will evaluate student performance in this class according to the following components:

Participation: 10%
Mid-term Exam: 25%
Final Exam: 25%
Paper/Group Presentation: 40%

Participation: One of the primary objectives of this class is to develop your ability to critically analyze political and public policy issues. This is best done by actively engaging in discussion of policy issues with others who are well informed about an issue and who can bring different experiences to the discussion. Class participation, therefore, will be a factor in your final grade. Students are expected to come to class prepared for discussion by having studied the assigned reading in advance. From time to time we may carry out in-class exercises and I will use your participation in these exercises to help me assess this component of your grade.

Exams: There will be two exams in this class, a mid-term and a final, each worth 25% of your final grade. The mid-term exam will be on Wednesday, March 2, and will cover material on the syllabus through February 25.

The final exam will be on Thursday, May 5, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. This exam will be a comprehensive exam.

As a rule, I do not allow people to take make-up exams except under exceptional circumstances or in cases of medical or personal emergencies. If you must miss an exam, I require at least one week’s notice to schedule a make-up exam. Missing an exam without sufficient advance notice or a verifiable medical excuse (e.g. a doctor’s note) will result in a zero on the exam.

Paper and Presentation: Part of being a good political scientist is being able to evaluate public policy issues critically and to present your findings to other people. To this end, you will select a public policy topic on which to focus for the semester during your first week in class. Over the course of the semester, you will complete a paper on a research question pertaining to your topic. You will develop your paper in three stages. First, you will write a 3-5 page research proposal, in which you discuss your research question, why it is significant, and possible sources of information. You are required to conduct interviews with at least two individuals on your policy issue as part of your project, and you should identify individuals you might talk to for your interviews in your proposal. You will have a chance to submit a draft of your proposal to a partner in class for comments prior to submitting it to me for approval. The final draft of your proposal is due to me by 5:00 on Friday, February 11. You will make an appointment with me the following week to discuss your proposal. The proposal counts as 12.5% of your overall paper grade, or 5% of your total grade in the class

In the second stage of your paper, you will complete a draft of your paper and conduct an oral presentation in class discussing your research question and your findings in late March or early April. For the oral presentation, you will teach the class about your policy issue and what you have learned about it. There will be two presentations per class session, and so you should plan on having a total of 25 minutes of presentation time. Leaving about 10 minutes for questions and discussion, therefore, you should plan your presentation for about 15 minutes. As a class, we will grade your oral presentation based on level of content, organization and presentation skill and clarity. I will consider the class assessment as well as my own assessment of the presentation in determining your grade on this component. The oral presentation will be 25% of your overall paper grade, or 10% of your total grade in the class.

A draft of your research paper will be due to me on Wednesday, April 6. I will not grade this draft, but I will read it, make comments and suggestions, and return it to you for revisions. Of course, if you would like me to read earlier drafts of your paper, you are free to see me during office hours.

The third stage is for you to complete the final draft of your paper. Your final paper is due to me by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 22. The final paper grade is 62.5% of your overall paper grade, or 25% of your final course grade.

I encourage you to work outside of class with other class members on your papers and presentations (though, of course, the paper you turn in must be your own work). To that end, you may wish to take down the names and contact information for a few classmates:

Academic Integrity

Cheating, plagiarism and other violations of academic integrity standards will not be tolerated. Any work turned in that is in violation of these standards will automatically receive a grade of zero and the matter will be referred to the Academic Integrity Board.

For your reference, the university defines academic misconduct in the following ways:

“All forms of academic dishonesty including cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation, and obstruction are violations of academic integrity standards. Cheating includes copying from another’s work, falsifying problem solutions or laboratory reports, or using unauthorized sources, notes or computer programs. Plagiarism includes the presentation, without proper attribution, of another’s words or ideas from printed or electronic sources. It is also plagiarism to submit, without the instructor’s consent, an assignment in one class previously submitted in another. Misrepresentation includes forgery of official academic documents, the presentation of altered or falsified documents or testimony to a university office or official, taking an exam for another student, or lying about personal circumstances to postpone tests or assignments. Obstruction occurs when a student engages in unreasonable conduct that interferes with another’s ability to conduct scholarly activity. Destroying a student’s computer file, stealing a student’s notebook, and stealing a book on reserve in the library are examples of obstruction. (Case Academic Integrity Board)”


We will use two textbooks in this class. Both should be available at the CWRU Bookstore:

Bickers, Kenneth N., and John T. Williams. 2001. Public Policy Analysis: A Political Economy Approach. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. We will use this text to introduce ideas for public policy analysis.

Congressional Quarterly. 2004. Issues for Debate in American Public Policy. 5th ed. Washington: CQ Press. This text is a collection of narratives put out by Congressional Quarterly on various policy issues. We will use this as a source of facts for our discussions on substantive policy issues.

Additional reading items will be distributed in class or placed on reserve at the Kelvin Smith Library.

Course Outline

Note that these topics and reading assignments may change throughout the course of the semester, depending on our speed and interests. Changes will be announced in class.

Monday, January 10 — Course introduction

Wednesday, January 12 — No class

Friday, January 14 — No class


Monday, January 17 — MLK Day, no class

Wednesday, January 19 — Rationality and Political Economy
Reading: B&W, Chapter 1

Friday, January 21 — Democracy, distribution and collective action
Reading: B&W, Chapter 2
Come with a paper topic to discuss


Monday, January 24 — The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Reading: B&W, Chapter 4

Wednesday, January 26 — Solving Collective Action Problems
Reading: Axelrod (1984)

Friday, January 28 — Environmental Policy
Reading: CQ, Chapter 10


Monday, January 31 — Tragedy of the Commons
Reading: Garrett Harding, “Tragedy of the Commons”

Wednesday, February 2 — Governments and Collective Action
Reading: B&W, Chapter 5

Friday, February 4 — Drafting a research proposal
Reading: TBA
In-class review of research proposal drafts


Monday, February 7 — Markets and property rights
Reading: B&W, Chapter 6

Wednesday, February 9 — Property rights
Reading: TBA

Friday, February 11 — Discussion 1: _______________________
Reading: TBA
Research proposal due at 5:00 p.m.

Monday, February 14 — Market failures
Reading: B&W, Chapter 7

Wednesday, February 16 — Market failures
Reading: TBA

Friday, February 18 — Federalism
Reading: B&W Chapter 8


Monday, February 21 — Devolution
Reading: selected readings from Governing magazine

Wednesday, February 23 — Local public goods and polycentrism
Reading: TBA

Friday, February 25 — Evaluating public policy: efficiency, equity and values
Reading: B&W, Chapter 11


Monday, February 28 — Review day

Wednesday, March 2 — Mid-term Exam

Friday, March 4 — Discussion 2: ___________________________
Reading: TBA


Monday, March 7 — Spring Break, no class

Wednesday, March 9 — Spring Break, no class

Friday, March 11 — Spring Break, no class


Monday, March 14 — Voting dilemmas and Arrow’s Theorem
Reading: B&W, chapter 3

Wednesday, March 16 — Representation, principals and agents
Reading: TBA

Friday, March 18 — Legislators
Reading: Arnold, Chapter 4


Monday, March 21 — Policy Process
Reading: Kingdon, Chapters 4, 9

Wednesday, March 23 — Policy Typologies
Reading: B&W, Chapter 9

Friday, March 25 — Discussion  3:____________________________
Reading: TBA


Monday, March 28 — Presentation__________________________________________

Wednesday, March 30 — Presentation_______________________________________

Friday, April 1 — Presentation___________________________________________


Monday, April 4 — Presentation ___________________________

Wednesday, April 6 — Interest Groups
Reading: Walker, Chapter 4
Draft research paper due today at 5:00 p.m. today

Friday, April 8 — No class


Monday, April 11 — Interest group formation
Reading: Olson, Chapters 2 and 6

Wednesday, April 13 — Pluralism and interest group liberalism
Reading: Schattschneider 1960, Chapter 2

Friday, April 15: Pluralism, interest group liberalism and the hollow core
Reading: Lowi (1969), Chapter 3 (selected pages); Heinz et al. 1993


Monday, April 18 — Bureaucracy
Reading: B&W, Chapter 10

Wednesday, April 20 — Bureaucracy and policy implementation
Reading: TBA

Friday, April 22 — Discussion 4: ___________________________
Reading: TBA
Final paper due today at 5:00 p.m.


Monday, April 25 — Review day

Thursday, May 5, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. — Final Exam

Page last modified: February 9, 2015