POLS 207: Contemporary Issues in Public Policy

Jose Marichal, Ph.D.

California Lutheran University

Department of Political Science

E-mail: marichal@callutheran.edu 

Office Hrs: 11:40 to 1pm MWF

Twitter #clupols207

Office: Swenson 228

ThickCulture Blog

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This course is about people coming together to make collective decisions about what constitutes "the good life." All of us have things we care deeply about, aspirations and dreams, but we can't achieve these things on our own. We live in a society with others and through the political process, we make decisions every day that affect people's ability to live their version of "the good life." This course is about two things. First, it is about developing your view of "the good life" - i.e. what are your dreams and aspirations for yourself and for the world and (2) how can we make collective decisions that allow people to enjoy "the good life." In this course we will look at: Who makes collective decisions? What criteria do they use to arrive at decisions? How do people promote preferred solutions? Why are obvious problems not addressed? This class will engage you in the process of public decision making. You will be asked to think about your own personal goals and how they connect to the society you live in. You will look at the policy process surrounding your goals and how to go about changing that process if it produces unwanted results. Throughout the course, we will work towards developing policy solutions that will affect the things you hope to achieve in life.

This course will address the following CLU General Education Goals:

  1. Oral and Written Communication Skills
  2. Understanding of Cultural and Global Diversity
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Growth in Identity and Values
  5. Ability to work in groups

This course will address the following Political Science Department Goals:

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Exposure to Cultural Experiences

In this course, students are expected to:

  1. employ different theoretical approaches towards understanding specific policy issues
  2. exhibit critical thinking and effective writing and oral skills by applying readings to issues of concern.
  3. demonstrate the ability to work with other students in groups to locate and present information.
  4. show an ability to find, evaluate, use and communicate information in both oral and written formats.
  5. demonstrate the ability to communicate orally in a manner that is clear, organized, and appropriate to the intended audience.
  6. know how to apply appropriate evaluative criteria to assess their own presentations and those of others.


Any aspect of this syllabus can be changed by the instructor at his discretion.

Readings for the day need to be completed prior to class times, as class activities, discussions, and quizzes will primarily draw upon assigned readings.

Talking, working, and thinking with others are large parts of this class. We will get into discussions about some controversial subjects. I encourage expressions of opinions (myself included), but there are some classroom boundaries. Our class will be a safe place. That is to say, we will all treat each other in a respectful manner. Translation: rude interruptions, hurtful insults (including racial, gender, sexuality, etc. slurs), and personal attacks will not be tolerated. You may not always be comfortable with the topics, and by no means are you expected to approve of everything we discuss.

California Lutheran University is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to students with various documented disabilities (physical, learning, or psychological). If you are a student requesting accommations for this course, please contact your professor at the beginning of the semester and register with the Coordinator for Students with Disabilities (Pearson Library, Center for Academic Resources, Ext. 3260) for the facilitation and verification of need. Faculty will work closely together with you and your coordinator to provide necessary accommodations.

Academic Honesty: Plagiarism, cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in this class. According to the CLU student handbook, plagiarism occurs “whenever a source of any kind has not been acknowledged.” With respect to my policy, let me be clear – you will receive and F in the course if you take material from the Internet and insert it into any written work as your own without giving credit to the person who wrote it. Those found violating the CLU code on academic dishonesty in any way will receive an F in the class.

All quizzes, exams, activities, and papers must be turned in on time: no make-ups will be given, and no re-writes will be offered. If an assignment is of the take-home variety, it must be typed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins all around, spell-checked, grammar-checked, and demonstrate correct citation and bibliographic format. Late take-home assignments will not be graded unless you have documentation of an emergency. Missed quizzes will be marked down as zeroes


Your grade will come from the following assignments:

Discussion Leadership: One Friday during the semester, you will be responsible for leading discussion on the readings for that day. You will lead a class discussion that draws out the main arguments from the reading. To guide the discussion you will provide two thought provoking questions for group discussion. Each of you will post your questions to the Google+ Community no later than noon on the Monday of the week you are presenting. Failure to do so will earn you a two point reduction for the assignment. In addition, you will write a 5-7 page reflection paper based on the readings. The questions and responses will be graded based on their thoughtfulness and clarity. The class discussion assignment will be worth 10 points.

Discussion Leadership and Reflection Paper = 20 points

Discussion Participation: In preparation for the Friday discussion, you will provide responses to one or both of that day’s questions and post them to the Google+ community. You can earn up to 10 points on this assignment by posting a thoughtful yet pithy response by 8am on ten of those Friday mornings. The responses will be graded on their thoughtfulness and clarity.

10 Class participation responses = 10 points

Class Participation: part of your grade will come from your level of engagement with the readings. Before each class, I will ask you to share your critical reflections on the readings (e.g. areas where you agree/disagree with the author and WHY.  You must comment on at least one article for each day of assigned readings and post it to the Google+ community.  I will rely a great deal on your comments to structure the class discussion. Here is a link to the Google+ Community

Google Participation = 10 points

Exams: We will complete our consideration of public policy issues with an in-class exam in which you will be asked to apply the theories and concepts learned to current issues related to public policy. At the end of our final section of the course, we will do a second in-class exam that will have the same objectives. Each exam will be worth 25 points.

2 midterm exams x 30 points = 60 points

Assignments Summary

Discussion Leadership/Paper = 20 points

Discussion Participation = 10 points

Google+ Participation = 10 points

Exams – 30 points X 2 exams = 60 points

Course Readings:

Stone, D. Policy Paradox. WW Norton Press.

All Other Readings Accessible On-Line.

Schedule of Readings

Week 1: Introduction

Sept 4: Introduction to the Course

Sept 6: What are Policy Conflicts?


Stone Chapter 1: The Market and the Polis

Where Do You Fit? Introducing The Pew/NewsHour Political Party Quiz 


Week 2: Value Conflicts

Sept 9: What is "Good Policy?"

Jones, D. (2008) The Emerging Moral Psychology. Prospect UK.

WNYC RadioLab (2006) Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides. Audio.

Dan Ariely Discussion Leader


Sept 11: Defining Equity

Stone Chapter 2: Equity


Sept 13: What is Equitable? Slides

Moorhead, J. (2006) Different Planets. The Guardian.

Rawls (1971) Two Theories of Justice (Excerpt)

Week 3: Efficiency and Welfare

Sept 16: What is an efficient outcome?

Stone Chapter 3: Efficiency


Sept 18: What is an efficient outcome?

Bailey, R. (2008) Does the Invisible Hand Need a Helping Hand. Reason Magazine.

Economist. (2008) It's Mine I tell You: Mankind's Inner Chimpanzee.

Sept 20: What is Welfare?

Stone Chapter 4: Welfare


Week 4: Welfare and Liberty

Sept 23: What is Welfare?

Wolfshenk, J. (2009) What makes us Happy. The Atlantic Magazine.



Human Development Report 2011: Sustainability and Equity: Towards a Better Future for All

Sept 25: What is Liberty?

Stone Chapter 6 (or 5 depending on the edition of the book - make sure you’re reading the chapter on Liberty) :Liberty


Sept 27: What is Liberty? 

Maybe add fukuyama here (democracy as a utopian idea)  - http://blog.oup.com/2011/10/derrida/

Berlin, I (1958) Two Concepts of Liberty in Four Essays on Liberty (only pages 1-10).

Hayek (1945) The Road to Serdom: Condensed Excerpt



BBC (2007) The Trap - We Will Force You To Be Free.Video.

Who’s in Charge: Free will and the science of the brain


Week 5: Framing

Sept 30

Stone Chapter 7: Symbols


Oct 2: Symbols Slides

Kalehman (2012) Thinking Fast and Slow - Introduction

Oct 4: Fall Holiday

Section II: Defining Problems

Week 6: Framing

Oct 7: Frames and Heuristics

Iyengar, S. (2009) How Framing Influences Citizen Understanding of Public Issues. Frameworks Institute.

Persuaders Film: We'll watch in class


Oct 9: Symbols and the Brain

Discussion Leader #2

Westin, D. (2007) The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Excerpt.

Haidt, J. (2008) What makes people vote republican? edge.org 

Johnathan Haidt Discussion Leader


Oct 11: Stories and Politics

Hsu, J. (2008) The Secrets of Storytelling. Scientific American.

Iweala, U. (2008) Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa - washingtonpost.com

Week 7: Uses of Data

Oct 14: Numbers and Policy

Stone Chapter 8


Oct 16: Policy and Numbers

When to use Scary Stats

Blogger Discussion on Political Science and Policy

Embrace the Wonk

What Political Scientists can Give to Policy Makers

The Cult of Irrelevance

Scholars on the Sidelines



Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world. Discussion Leader.

Lundry (2010) Chart Wars. Blip.TV

Oct 18: Review for Exam #1

Review sheet

Week 8: Causal Stories

Oct 21: Exam #1

Oct 23: Causal Stories in Politics

Stone Chapter 9: Causal Stories


Oct 25: Causal Stories Cont.

Shermer (2008) Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Pattterns in Meaningless Noise. Scientific Amreican.

Frontline Video - Cliffhanger


The science Behind Data Visualization

Boltanski and Thevenot (2006) On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton University Press. Chapter 1

Week 9: Coalition Building

Oct 28:

Stone Chapter 10: Interests




Tufte (2003) Power Point is Evil. Wired Magazine.

Power Point Presentation

Powering a Nation


Oct 30: Interests

Who’s Polluting the Climate Change Conversation

A Look into our Climate Past

Our Climate Change Cathedral



Nov 1: Interests and policy

Meet the Flexians

Inside Power Inc.



Are the parties becoming more polarized?

Week 10: Policy Opportunities

Nov 4: Interests and Politics

Sides and Vavreck (2013) The Gamble: Chapter 1



Dennett, D. (2006) Ants, Terrorism and the Possibility of Memes. Discussion Leader.


Nov 6: Decisions

Stone Chapter 11: Decisions


Nov 8: Decisions - Cont.

Schneider and Ingram (1993) The Social Construction of Target Populations. American Political Science Review.

What Makes People Ambivalent about Social Inequality


Gawande, A. (2009) The Cost Conundrum. The New Yorker.


Week 11: Inducements

Nov 10: Decisions - Cont.

Fung, A. (2006) Empowered Participation. Chapter 1. Princeton University Press.

We Want More of Everything


Tetlock (2006) Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It?

Ober, J. (2009) Democracy and Knowledge - Chapter 1. Princeton University Press.


Section III: Creating and Promoting Solutions

Nov 13: Inducements

Stone Chapter 12: Inducements


 Nov 15: Inducements

Lynch, M. (2009) Jay-Z vs the Game: Lessons for the American Primacy Debate. Foreign Policy.

Rosenberg, T. (2008) A Payoff out of Poverty? New York Times.`



Frontline Video -- Poor Kids

Getting past “tough on crime”

It captures your mind

Week 12: Rules

Nov 18: Rules

Stone Chapter 13: Rules


Week 13: Facts

Nov 20 - Facts

Stone Chapter 14: Facts


Nov 22 - Facts

Brukley and Anderson (2007). Using the Science of Persuasion in the Courtroom. The Jury Expert.

Nov 25: Rights

Stone Chapter 15: Rights


Nov 27 - Dec 1 - Thanksgiving Break

Week 14: Rights and Powers

Dec 2: Rights
Power, S. (2001) Bystanders to Genocide. The Atlantic Monthly.

(2007)100 Years of Human Rights in the U.S. Yes! Magazine.

Dec 4: Powers Slides

Stone Chapter 16: Powers

Dec 6: Powers




Dec 9: Powers



Scott, James. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Introduction.and Chapter 1 (need to register)

Dec 11

Exam Review


Dec 13

Exam #2

General Additional Readings

Meacham, J. (2008) The Story of Power. Time Magazine.

Nivola, P. (2007) Rediscovering Federalism. Brookings Institution.

Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington Are Dashed in ... - Google Books Result 

Treisman, D. (2007) The Architecture of Government.Cambridge University Press. Excerpt.

Bell, D. (2007) Veil of Tears. Powell's.

Kagan (2006) Power and Weakness. Hoover Institution.

Western, B. (2006) Reentry. Reversing Mass Imprisonment. Boston Review.

Donahue and Stier (2008) The Next FEMA. Washington Monthly.

Scott, James. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Introduction.and Chapter 1 (need to register)

Spanos, C. (2008) What is a Real Utopia? Zmag

Gladwell, M. (1999) "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg," The New Yorker.

Scrivner, L. (2008) No Wink, but a Nudge Can Work Wonders. TheStar.Com

What Would a Unicorn Do?

Nobel, C. (2008) Failure is an Option. Portfolio.com.

Wenner, M. (2008) Bad Decision Makers Lack reasoning Skills. Science Daily.

Watts, D. (2007) Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage. New York Times.

Senge, P. Learning Organizations. SOL.


Hunger in the USA. On Point Radio Show.

George Lakoff on Embodied Conceptual Metaphor

Hess and Finn (2007) No Child Left Behind Needs some Work. Policy Review. 

Waldman: Government is Back. The American Prospect.

Karch, A (2007) Democratic Labroatories: Policy Diffusion in the American States. Univ. of Michigan Press.

Mead, L. (2001) Welfare Reform: Meaning and Effects. Policy Currents. 

Potoski and Prakash (2001) Protecting the Environment: Voluntary Regulations in Environmental Governance. Policy Currents.

Rom, M. (2001) From Welfare State to Opportunity and Responsibility (OAR), Inc. Policy Curents. 

Potoski, M. (2002) Implementation, Uncertainty, and the Policy Sciences. Policy Currents 

Tatalovich, R. and A. Smith ( 2002) Status Claims and Cultural Conflicts: The Genesis of Morality Policy. Policy Currents. 

DeLeon, P and K, Kaufmains (2002) Public Policy Theory: Will It Play in Peoria? Policy Currents. 

Elster, J. (2008) Reason and Ratonality. Excerpt.

Archibigi, D. (2008) The Human Rights Decleration at 60. Open Democracy.

Rosen, J (2008) Man Made Disaster. The New Republic.

Keen, A. (2009) In defense of sleazy lobbyists. The Daily Beast.

Schneider (1993) How the social construction of target popualtions contributes to problems in policy design. policy currents.

Knott (1993) Policy Change and Deregulation: Explaining Differences in Legislative Outcomes. policy currents.

Williams-Derry (2008) Fighting congestion, RAND-style. Grist.

Cohen and Sardell (1994) Policymaking for Children's Issues. Policy Currents. 

Johnson et. al. (1994) Children and Welfare Reform. policy currents. 

patashnik (2009) reforms at risk. priceton.