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PA 598 Special Topics: Policy Process

Spring 2008 -- Tuesdays, 6:00 to 8:50

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The goal of this course is to introduce you to key features of the public policy process in the United States, with some comparative examples to policy making in other democracies.


A famous political scientist, Harold Lasswell, once said that politics is the process by which a society decides “who gets what.” That “what” includes goods, services, rights, benefits, and anything else that can be allocated through the collective actions of members of society. In other words, the policy making process is profoundly political. In this course, we will seek to understand the political dimensions of the policy process; this shares some aspects of traditional policy analysis, but, as you will learn in this class, understanding the policy process is not the same as most policy analysis tasks. In particular, you will learn that the politics of policy making are remarkably different from economics based analyses of public policy, and that, indeed, the assumptions of politics and economics are not often congruent.


“Politics” is a dirty word in many circles; you will often hear people dismiss debate over policy matters as being “just politics,” which means that the debates have no real importance. This belief is mistaken, and if it leads to apathy, can lead to whole segments of our society being left out—or opting out—of crucial decisions. This makes your role as a participant in policy making even more important, because, in your graduate education, you will learn tools that will make you more effective as a participant in public policy than the vast majority of Americans. Perhaps more important, you will learn how much responsibility comes with policy making. In this course we will learn how to make pointed but sound arguments that advocate for particular policy options based on your sense of the public good.

Course syllabus

Slides from January 29 are here

The class schedule is in the Google Calendar Format here.

Outline from February 5 here

Slides from February 19 are here.

The handout referred to in the Feb. 19 slides is here.

The Feb. 26 slides are here.

The March 18 slides are here, including much of the material on law from March 11.