THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS FOR POLICY REFORM

By Gerard Alexander

Offered to: Class of 2021

Prerequisites: None

Office Hours: By appointment

Scholars and policymakers regularly research and debate which policy designs are best, including specific improvements to existing policies. But getting policy reforms adopted is another matter and is often challenging and attempts frequently fail. What conditions make it more versus less likely that policy reforms will be adopted? Competing theories suggest radically different answers – and have very different implications for would-be reformers.

This course is divided into three sections. The first, which is the bulk of the class, considers competing theories of the conditions that may influence the chances of adopting policy reforms. These include claims that elections and party composition of government are decisive, theories about interest groups that transcend any one electoral outcome, notions of ideas that shape how policymakers think about policies (and interests), institutional arrangements, the political effects of existing policies, and how these various factors may interact in continuing to shape the policy environment even after policy reforms are adopted. Readings develop these theories with analysis of policy reforms in the United States, the UK, other West European cases, India, and other countries.

The second section focuses on case studies from modern India, split into sessions on the gradual reforms of industrial and trade policy in 1990-2000, and the wave of policy changes starting in 2014. The final session focuses on lessons that policy staffers can take from these theories and case studies, such as the potential for techniques like gradualism, grandfathering, and regulatory thresholds to make proposed policy reforms more viable.

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