Harvard DPI101 Political Institutions and Public Policy – Comparative

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Course description

This is a course about fundamental problems of participation, democratic governance, and conflict in contemporary political systems. It will provide students with an analytical toolkit for understanding and acting on the political dimensions of policy problems. (The G and H sections consider these questions primarily through the prism of American political institutions and the context they create for policymaking. See Harvard DPI101 Political Institutions and Public Policy – American Politics.) This section looks at systematic variations across different sorts of political institutions in both advanced and developing democracies, as well as in countries that are not democracies. The class develops the skills for effective political analysis and advocacy, including memo- and op-ed writing, as well as the skills to brief actors who need to know everything about the politics of a situation in a short period of time.


Quinton Mayne, Spring 2016


http://www.hks.harvard.edu/degrees/teaching-courses/course-listing/dpi-101-j, accessed 20 March 2016.

Link to syllabus uploaded to the Atlas


Additional material from the syllabus

Course description

This is a course about the effects of major political factors on public policy. It addresses central debates in comparative politics to inquire about critical real-world questions. Why are some states able to produce stable institutions while others fail? Why do some countries provide universal health care while others do not? What institutional arrangements help negotiation and cooperation in deeply divided societies? We examine these questions through the lens of comparative politics in order to understand the conditions under which different political regimes, institutional designs (such as systems of government, electoral systems, power-sharing arrangements), and public policies (especially social policies) are adopted, and to learn about their political and distributive effects. We further analyze critical political actors involved in policy making (political parties, social movements, labor unions) in order to understand under what conditions they pursue different goals, adopt different strategies (i.e., form mass organizations, extend programmatic linkages to voters/members, etc.), and how they influence policy outcomes.

Aside from exploring political aspects that shape public policies, an important additional aim of this course is to help you hone your analytical skills and presentational abilities. In your professional lives, you will often be required to explain complex policy choices with verbal economy and analytical precision. The in-class exercises and assignments for this course are designed to help you learn these skills. They will also help to prepare you for Spring Exercise, the policy simulation that is the capstone of the first year of the Master in Public Policy program.

Class preparation

The quality and value of our meetings are crucially dependent on your coming to class prepared and willing to discuss the assigned readings and actively engage with the larger themes and questions they address. My expectation is that, in preparation for class, you will think hard both about individual readings and the topics being addressed in individual sessions as well as issues that cut across readings and sessions.

Policy on laptops, cell phones, and smart phones

The use of cell phones and smart phones is strictly prohibited in class except for emergencies. Students may use their laptops or tablet PCs to take notes in class or to refer to the readings. You may not however surf the web or check your email. Being caught doing this will directly and negatively affect your participation-and-engagement grade.


Prior to most course sessions, you will need to read two academic works. For two sessions (on February 9 and March 1), each student will be assigned a single reading. For Sessions 6 and 14 (February 11), each team will be assigned two or three readings. I will tell you well in advance which piece you have been assigned to read. All readings will be available online through the course’s Canvas page.


Your final grade will be based on: (1) your participation and engagement in class; (2) a team presentation, (3) a policy memo; and (4) a final examination.

1. Participation and Engagement (20%). Your participation-and-engagement grade will depend on your contribution to the collective learning during class discussions and in-class activities and exercises. The quality of your contributions relates to the content as well as the delivery and timing of your comments within the flow of class discussion. The following types of class participation are particularly welcome: bringing in specific evidence from assigned readings; using concrete examples from case(s) to elaborate more abstract, general ideas; building on and responding to the comments of other students; and linking your professional experience to the material being discussed. Comments that are off-topic, excessive in length, or disrespectful of the opinions of others will negatively affect your participation-and-engagement grade.

2. In-class team presentation and team précis (25%). You will be assigned to a team by Friday, January 29. Your task as a team will be to prepare and give an in-class presentation, with accompanying slides, on a set of readings, either in Session 6 (on Regime Type & Public Policy) or in Session 14 (on Decentralization). In addition to presenting in class, you and your team will write a précis of your assigned readings to be submitted by midnight on the Sunday immediately after your in-class presentation. If you present in Session 6, your team précis will therefore be due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday, February 16; if you present in Session 14, your team précis will be due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 15. A detailed description of this assignment, along with each team’s readings, will be posted on Canvas on January 29 for teams presenting in Session 6 and on February 26 for teams presenting in Session 14. Teams should upload their slides to Canvas and email them to Jiayin by 9:00 AM on the date of their presentation.

3. Individual policy memo (25%). You will write a 1,000-word policy memo related to one of the three in-class exercises. You are free to choose which one of the three in-class exercises your policy memo will address. The in-class exercises will take place on Thursday, February 25 (Session 10), Thursday, March 24 (Session 16), and Thursday, April 7 (Session 20). Your policy memo should be uploaded to Canvas on the Sunday immediately after the in-class exercise takes place. This means that if you choose to focus on the first in-class exercise, your policy memo will be due by 11:59 PM on Sunday, February 28. If you choose to focus on the second in-class exercise, your policy memo will be due by 11:59 PM on Sunday, March 27. If you choose to focus on the third in-class exercise, your policy memo will be due by 11:59 PM on Sunday, April 10. Detailed instructions on the policy memo for each in-class exercise, along with all relevant briefing materials, will be posted on Canvas two weeks in advance of the date of each in-class exercise.

4. Take-home Final Examination (30%). The final assignment for the course will be a take-home examination, distributed on April 15. Your completed examination will be due by midnight May 8. The take-home examination will be an opportunity for you to reflect on overarching topics and themes that cut across the course as a whole. You may consult your class notes and course readings as well as other reference materials. You may NOT consult any person other than me about any aspect of this examination, and I will hold regular office hours during the examination period to answer any questions you might have. The rules of attribution apply to your take-home examination: all sources should be cited, including other students’ written work.

Your final grade will not be based on your absolute score on any of the graded components of the course but rather on how well you perform overall relative to other students in the class. In other words, the course is graded on a curve. I will apply the most liberal curve allowable by Kennedy School guidelines. The top 15 to 20% of the class will receive a grade of A; the next 20 to 30% will receive a grade of A-; the next 20 to 30% will receive a grade of B+; the next 20 to 25% will receive a grade of B; and the lowest 5 to 10% will receive a grade of B- or lower.

Week-by-week listing of topics and assigned readings

Week 1a: Course Introduction

Week 1b: Power and Institutions

• Power Animation Video

• Steven Lukes, 2005. Power: A Radical View, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 14-29.

Week 2a: Political Regimes. What makes a democracy a democracy? What factors promote democratic deepening?

• Robert Dahl, 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 1-16.

• Michael Coppedge, et al. 2011. “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach.” Perspectives on Politics 9:2, pp. 247-267.

Week 2b: Political Culture. What exactly is political culture? How can we distinguish between different types of political culture? How do these differences matter and what forces are shaping them?

• Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba, 1989 [1963]. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. London: Sage Publications, pp. 1-39.

• Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, pp.48-76.

Week 3a: Regime Change. Why do some countries transition from authoritarianism to democracy? Does economic development increase the likelihood of democratization? Are mass social movements necessary to produce democratic transitions?

NOTE: You will be assigned to read only one of the following:

• Ben Ansell and David Samuels, 2010. “Inequality and Democratization: A Contractarian Approach,” Comparative Political Studies, 43:12, pp.1543–1574.

• Eva Bellin, 2004, “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Exceptionalism in Comparative Perspective,” Comparative Politics, 36:2, pp. 139-157.

• Charles Boix and Suzan Stokes, 2003. “Endogenous Democratization,” World Politics, 55:4, pp. 517-549.

• Michael Bratton and Nicolas Van de Walle, 1994. “Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa,” World Politics 46:4, pp. 453-489.

• Ruth Berins Collier and James Mahoney, 1997. “Adding Collective Actors to Collective Outcomes: Labor and Recent Democratization in South America and Southern Europe.” Comparative Politics, 29:3, pp. 285-303.

• Michael McFaul, 2002. “The Fourth Wave of Democracy and Dictatorship: Noncooperative Transitions in the Postcommunist World,” World Politics, 54:2, pp. 212-244.

Week 3b: Regime Type and Public Policy. Does regime type really matter for public goods provision? Do authoritarian and democratic regimes produce different types of policies? Is democracy really better than authoritarianism in promoting human welfare?

• Readings will be available on Canvas from January 31.

Week 4a: Electoral Rules. What are the key differences in electoral rules? What criteria should we use to evaluate different types of electoral rules? What factors and conditions drive electoral reform?

• Bingham Powell, 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, pp. 3-17.

• Carles Boix, 1999. “Setting the Rules of the Game: The Choice of Electoral Systems in Advanced Democracies.” American Political Science Review, 93:3, pp. 609-624.

Week 4b: Parties and Party Systems. Why is it important to differentiate between different types of parties? How do we know a party “system” when we see it?

• Maurice Duverger, 1972. “Factors in a Two-Party and Multiparty System,” in Party Politics and Pressure Groups: A Comparative Introduction, Trans. David Wagoner. New York: Crowell, pp. 23-32.

• Peter Mair, 2013. “The Challenge to Party Government” and “The Withdrawal of the Elites” in Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, London; Brooklyn: Verso, pp. 45-98.

Week 5a: Executive-legislative Relations. In what ways is presidentialism different from parliamentarism? What are the pros and cons of concentrating policy-making powers?

• Scott Mainwaring and Matthew Shugart, 1997. “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal,” Comparative Politics, 29:4, pp. 449-471.

• Juul Christiansen Flemming and Erik Damgaard, 2008. “Parliamentary Opposition under Minority Parliamentarism: Scandinavia,” The Journal of Legislative Studies, 14:1-2, pp. 46-76.

Week 5b: In-class Exercise #1

• Briefing materials will be available on Canvas from February 19.

Week 6a: Voting Behavior. Why do some citizens and groups turn out to vote more than others? What factors influence how citizens vote? Should we worry about low electoral participation rates?

NOTE: You will be assigned to read only one of the following:

• Simone Abendschön and Stephanie Steinmetz, 2014. “The Gender Gap in Voting Revisited: Women’s Part Preferences in a European Context,” Social Politics, 21:2, pp. 315-344.

• Christopher Anderson, 2007. “The End of Economic Voting? Contingency Dilemmas and the Limits of Democratic Accountability,” Annual Review of Political Science, 10:1, pp.271-296.

• André Blais, 2006. “What affects voter turnout?,” Annual Review of Political Science, 9:1, pp.111-125.

• Miguel Carreras, et al., 2013. “Refining the theory of partisan alignments: Evidence from Latin America,” Party Politics, pp. 1-15.

• Richard R. Lau, et al., 2014. “Correct Voting Across Thirty-Three Democracies: A Preliminary Analysis,” British Journal of Political Science, 44:2, pp.239-259.

Week 6b: Clientelism. What is clientelism? Who benefits and suffers as a result of clientelism? Under what conditions does clientelism survive and decline?

• Rebecca Weitz-Shapiro, 2014. Curbing Clientelism in Argentina: Politics, Poverty, and Social Policy. New York; London: Cambridge University Press, pp. 26-49.

Week 7a: State Capacity and Corruption. What makes a particular act or practice corrupt? What drives corruption? Is corruption always a bad thing? What does it mean to say a state is weak or strong? What factors help countries build state capacity?

• Bo Rothstein, 2014. “What is the opposite of corruption?” Third World Quarterly, 35:5, pp.737-752.

• Eduardo Dargent, 2011, “Agents or Actors? Assessing the Autonomy of Economic Technocrats in Colombia and Peru,” Comparative Politics, 43:3, pp. 313-332. (Available as an in-class handout).

Week 7b: Decentralization. What are different ways in which power can be vertically dispersed within a political system? When and why is decentralization worth pursuing?

• Readings will be available on Canvas from February 26.

Week 8a: Social Movements and Organized Interests. Why do ordinary people come together and push collectively for change in some places but not others? What factors help socio-economic groups and interests to organize? Why are some social movements and organized interests more successful than others?

• Gunnar Trumball, 2012. Strength in Numbers: The Political Power of Weak Interests, Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, pp. 99-123.

• Doug McAdam, 1999. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency: 1930-1970, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 146-180.

Week 8b: In-class Exercise #2

• Briefing materials will be available on Canvas from March 17.

Week 9a: Varieties of Capitalism. What characteristics distinguish one type of capitalism from another? What are the costs and benefits of having strong labor unions?

• Kathleen Thelen, 2012. “Varieties of Capitalism: Trajectories of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity.” American Political Science Review, 15:1, pp. 137-159.

• Xiaoke Zhang and Richard Whitley, 2013. “Changing macro-structural varieties of East Asian capitalism.” Socio-Economic Review, 11:2, pp. 301-336.

Week 9b: Welfare Regimes. What exactly is the welfare state? How do countries differ from each other from the perspective of welfare commitments? What factors influence the levels and types of public welfare investments made by politicians?

• Gøsta Esping-Andersen, 2000. “Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism.” In Christopher Pierson and Francis G. Castles (eds.), The Welfare State: A Reader, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.154-168.

Week 10a: Middle-income Trap

• Readings TBA

Week 10b: In-class Exercise #3

• Briefing materials will be available on Canvas from April 1.

Week 11a: Final Review Session

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 20 March 2016.