What you'll learn

  • How religion and politics have been a persistent source of conflict
  • The nature of U.S. fiscal policy and monetary policy
  • How America’s welfare policies are distinct from those of other Western democracies
  • The structure and politics of the U.S. tax system
  • The partisan divisions over regulatory policy and the basis for those divisions
  • The factors that made America an economic powerhouse

Course description

Public policy puts laws into action. The executive branch directs the combined activities of the federal government to address a multitude of problems, from the environment to the economy. The policies of the United States affect social issues, economic growth, taxes, regulation, and foreign affairs. This course will take a broad view of public policy in America but will use specific examples, such as the 2008 economic downturn and climate change, to illustrate the wide-ranging effects of those policies.

We’ll address the intersection of religion and politics, and how issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage have played out in the political arena. We’ll discuss fiscal, monetary, welfare and income policy—what they are, what tools they involve, and what political divisions they create. We’ll examine partisan divisions over regulatory policy, and the basis for those divisions. Finally, we’ll trace the evolution of America’s position as a trading nation by examining trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This course will also serve as an overview of American government, concentrating on overarching tendencies such as its fragmented power structure. The importance of these tendencies will be explained by showing how thoroughly each of them affects American politics.

Course outline

  • Social Policy 

    This session will concentrate on the intersection of religion and politics, historically and currently. We will explain how issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage have played out in ways that have aligned religious conservatives with the Republican Party and religious liberals and seculars with the Democratic Party.

  • Fiscal & Monetary Policy 

    This session examines fiscal policy and monetary policy—what they are, what tools they involve, and what political divisions they create. The nature of these policies will be illustrated through several cases, including the policies enacted in response to the economic downturn that began in 2008.

  • Welfare & Income Policy 

    This session will describe and explain these developments, relating them to both the nature of the U.S. economy and the nature of U.S. policy. The structure and politics of the U.S. welfare system and the U.S. tax system will be points of emphasis.

  • Regulatory Policy 

    While emphasizing policy, the session will also address partisan divisions over regulatory policy, and the basis for those divisions. Several cases, most notably the politics and policies of climate change, will be used to illustrate key points.

  • Foreign Policy 

    This session will trace the evolution of America’s position as a trading nation during the post-World War II era, concentrating first on the factors that made America in the immediate post-war period the world’s unquestioned economic power and then on the factors that weakened that position. The session will conclude with an examination of the politics and policies of trade agreements, including adoption in 1993 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the rejection in 2017 of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

  • Dynamics of American Politics 

    This session will serve as an overview of the course, concentrating on major tendencies within the American system, such as its fragmented power structure. The importance of these tendencies will be explained by showing how thoroughly each of them affects American politics. The purpose of this session is to reinforce and clarify the “lessons learned” during the course.

Faculty

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Kennedy School

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