POL 2600 --- Intro to Public Policy & Administration


"Bad administration, to be sure, can destroy good policy; but good administration can never save bad policy."

Adlai E. Stevenson


“Mexico [and its 1994 financial crisis] is a good example of a situation…in which all decisions had the potential for serious adverse consequences and the key was to find the least bad option.”

Robert Rubin


It has become vogue in many quarters to malign the government and its work.  In America, extremist ‘Tea Partiers’ rail against Washington bureaucrats and equate public health policies with the fascist enterprises of Nazi Germany.  Even more moderate voices of the movement, such as Texas’ Rick Perry, contend that the current administration “clearly believes that government is not only the answer to every need but it's the most qualified to make essential decisions for every American in every area. That mix of arrogance and audacity…is an affront to every freedom-loving American.” Nor is the distrust of public policy and its administration so widely seen in the United States an isolated case.  In Canada, Rob Ford rode an anti-government wave in 2010 to become mayor of Canada’s largest city, boasting a stunning 47% of the popular vote.  Here, even politicians generally in favour of a strong, activist government argue public policy should be limited in how it affects private lives.  As then-Justice Minister Trudeau once famously remarked to newspaper reporters, “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” 


To be fair, government has earned a healthy dose of skepticism.  Policies supposedly enacted by governing bodies to further the interests of the community are often in fact designed to enrich those who pass laws and implement public policy instead.  Such self-interested ‘rent-seeking’ can lead to calamity: unnecessary famines, wars benefiting a tiny imperial elite, and—at their most extreme—the fostering of ethnic and religious cleavages that display a tendency to descend into murderous violence.  


Yet so too has government played an absolutely vital role in every society in history.  Without some form of collective governance community living would be impossible.  Indeed, some problems cannot be satisfactorily addressed by a single individual or entrepreneurial firm.  Instead, they require resolution through processes of communal decision-making.  Issues of the commons—from air to roads, from political organization to taxation—leave no one untouched, and thus disagreements regarding them cannot be resolved independently.  Critics of government therefore tend to miss the point.  Public policies are not usually ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but are simply a reflection of inevitable tradeoffs between alternatives.  Policies that encourage government interventionism—the welfare state, for example—come at the expense of those that maximize individual freedoms.  Modern political discourse would certainly be much calmer if arguments were framed in terms of such ideological preferences—every one a tough choice involving important alternatives foregone—as opposed to those of righteousness and moral certitude.  This course provides a primer on how to consider public policy in precisely this light.


Furthermore, while there is generally no right or wrong way of choosing and implementing public policy, there are useful methods to anticipate and quantify the prospective costs and benefits of the alternatives considered.  The microeconomics-infused techniques of policy analysis are particularly useful when considering public policy issues and their prospective resolution.  As such, this course will also survey these methodologies, providing a basic toolkit for students to rigorously evaluate both the formulation of public policy and its administration.  Course work includes a 5-page public policy issue review, a 2-page research paper outline and 10-page finished product, as well as a final exam.



Course Documents


Pol 2600 - Intro to Public Policy - Syllabus - Fall 2011.docx


0. Course Introduction - Pol 2600.ppt

1. Intro to Public Policy.pptx


2. Unique Challenges of Public Policy.ppt


3.  Understanding Individual Behaviour.ppt


4. Understanding Group Behaviour.ppt


5. Evaluating Social Welfare.ppt


6. The Political Process.ppt


7. The Market System.ppt


8. The Role of Government.pptx


9. Policy Design.pptx