Version 3.1 (Nov. 19, 2012 - revised dates for post-Thanksgiving schedule)

Political Science 300: Contemporary Issues in American Politics
University of Michigan
Fall 2012

Gregory B. Markus
Professor of Political Science and Research Professor, Center for Political Studies
6735 Haven Hall
(734) 763-2222,
Office hours: Mondays 4:10 pm to 5:30 pm, and by appointment


The purpose of this course is to develop your capacities as "leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future." That phrase is from the official mission statement of the University of Michigan.

This is a political course. That does not mean it is partisan or ideological. It means that it addresses matters of shared concern that affect our lives and engage our values. We will emphasize not only how these issues affect us but also how we affect them: politics is not just something we can watch or read about; it is something we can do.

Some of our readings express political points of view, as will the lectures at times and as will you and your classmates in our discussions. Some people get uncomfortable about such things. They assert that a course about politics should stick to the "facts." Well, that assertion is itself a political point of view, not a fact. It conveys and reinforces the idea that political expression -- and dissent, especially -- is somehow unseemly or risky. It also leaves unanswered questions of how one goes about choosing which among the uncountable number of facts are worthy of consideration and how one goes about interpreting the meaning of those facts, which seldom speak for themselves. In any event, I suggest that trying to learn to "challenge the present" without actually expressing points of view is like trying to learn to swim without actually getting wet.

We examine political issues critically. Your GSIs and I strive to be fair and accurate in our presentations and in our selection of readings. We do not strive to provide equal time to every conceivable point of view on an issue, however, and for two good reasons. First, as a practical matter it is an impossible task. Second, it can create the impression that all perspectives are more or less equally supported by logic or evidence, even when they plainly are not -- what journalists refer to as imposing an "artificial balance." The last thing your GSIs and I want is for you to appropriate our political views as your own. Please figure out your own views.

How the Course Proceeds

To get the most out of this course, you should do the readings as they are assigned and come to lecture and discussion section, reliably. Lectures are not merely a talking version of the readings. They provide information and commentary not found in the readings. And vice versa.

You don't purchase this course and "consume" it. The instructors don't deliver a product to you. Instead, students and instructors engage together in a semester of learning. Students' responsibilities in the learning process differ from instructors' responsibilities, but fulfilling both parts is necessary for the collective enterprise to work well.

Class discussions and lectures often move freely from assigned readings to the latest news. Because our subject matter includes issues and events that are unfolding as we discuss them, we typically update the syllabus somewhat as we go along.


Grading is on a standard, no-curve 100-point system. Because we do not grade on a curve, there is no competition among you for a pre-set number of "A" grades. To the contrary, we encourage cooperation, studying together, and learning from one another. Of course, all work that you turn in must be your own.

Papers. You will write four 2000-word papers during the semester, worth 20 points each (for a total of 80 points). You will be given a specific assignment for each paper, although the assignments are sufficiently broad for you to choose how to develop your response. We grade on the degree to which each paper presents a logical, well-organized response to the assignment, one that demonstrates you have grappled with and reflected upon the ensemble of material presented in our readings, lectures, and discussions.

Participation in active, collaborative learning. The other 20 points is based on your performance in your discussion section. Showing up consistently is necessary but not sufficient. Because this course is a collective enterprise, your grade in it will reflect not only how well you demonstrate your mastery of the material but also how conscientiously you contribute to the learning of your classmates, primarily through your active and informed participation in class discussions. An important part of developing your capacities as "leaders and citizens" is practicing public speaking and listening.

Course Readings

All required readings (and most supplementary ones) are available through the CTools site for our course. In the Course Outline below, readings marked with an asterisk are to be read by everyone. The supplementary readings are there for you to sample as you wish. I draw on them (and other sources) during lectures. From time to time your GSI may ask you to report briefly on some of the supplementary readings.

COURSE OUTLINE (Lecture dates in parentheses)

1. The Great Recession and Its Aftermath
    First paper assignment posted Sept. 24, due in lecture Oct. 1

A. The Present Situation (Sept. 5, 10, 12)

* Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 2012. “Chart book: The legacy of the Great Recession” (July 6).

* Bernanke, Ben S. 2012. “Recent developments in the labor market” (March 26).

* Appelbaum, Binyamin. 2012. “Family net worth drops to level of early ’90s, Fed says.” New York Times (June 11).

* Shah, Neil. 2012. “Hopes for a turnaround grow dimmer as worried consumers save, don't spend.” Wall Street Journal (Aug. 1).

* Casselman, Ben, and Conor Dougherty. 2012. “Federal spending cutbacks slow recovery.” Wall Street Journal (July 30).

* Romer, Christina D. 2011. “What do we know about the effects of fiscal policy? Separating evidence from ideology.” (Nov. 7).

* Stevenson, Betsey, and Justin Wolfers. 2012. “The U.S. economic policy debate is a sham.” Bloomberg (July 23).

Matthews, Dylan. 2012. “The Romney campaign says stimulus doesn’t work. Here are the studies they left out.” Washington Post (Aug. 8).

Congressional Budget Office. 2012. ”Estimated impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on employment and economic output from January 2012 through March 2012" (May).

Congressional Budget Office. 2012. “Report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- March 2012."

B. What Caused It (Sept. 17, 19)

* Bernanke, Ben S. 2012. "Some reflections on the crisis and the policy response." (April 13).

* Krugman, Paul, and Robin Wells. 2011. “The slump goes on: Why?” New York Review of Books (Sept. 30).

* Cassidy, John. 2009. “Rational irrationality.” The New Yorker (Oct. 5).

* Solow, Robert M. 2009. "How to understand the disaster." New York Review of Books, 56 (May 14).

Andrews, Edmund L. 2008. "Greenspan concedes error on regulation." New York Times (Oct. 24).

Bhutta, Neil, and Glenn B. Canner. 2009. “Did the CRA cause the mortgage market meltdown? Minneapolis Federal Reserve.

Johnson, Simon, and James Kwak. 2010. 13 Bankers. New York: Pantheon. "Introduction".

Zandi, Mark. 2009. Financial Shock (Updated ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press. Ch. 1, “Subprime précis”.

Roubini, Nouriel, and Stephen Mihm. 2010. Crisis Economics. New York: Penguin.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2010. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. New York: Norton.

C. Policy Responses (Sept. 24, 26)

* Tankersley, Jim. 2012. “A choice, not an echo.” National Journal (April 26).

* Barro, Robert J. 2011. "How to really save the economy." New York Times (Sept. 11).

* Krugman, Paul, and Robin Wells. 2010. “The way out of the slump.” New York Review of Books (Oct. 14).

* Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Mark Zandi. 2012. “The one housing solution left: Mass mortgage refinancing.” New York Times (Aug. 12).

* Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2012. “The book of jobs.” Vanity Fair (Jan).

* Chait, Jonathan. 2012. “Why Washington accepts mass unemployment.” (Aug. 3).

Hacker, Jacob, and Paul Pierson. 2012. "What Krugman & Stiglitz can tell us." New York Review of Books (Sept. 27).

Shiller, Robert. 2010. "What would Roosevelt do?" New York Times (July 31).

Spence, Michael, and Sandile Hlatshwayo. 2011. “The evolving structure of the American economy and the employment challenge.” Washington, DC: Council on Foreign Relations.

Morrison & Foerster. 2012. "Dodd-Frank at two."

Auerbach, Alan J., William G. Gale, and Benjamin H. Harris. 2010. "Activist fiscal policy." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24 (4): 141–164.

Elmendorf, Douglas W. 2010. “Fiscal policy choices.” Congressional Budget Office (Nov. 15).

Mankiw, N. Gregory. 2010. “Questions about fiscal policy: Implications from the financial crisis of 2008-2009.” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 92(3): 177-183.

Krugman, Paul. 2009. “How did economists get it so wrong?” New York Times Magazine (Sept. 6).

Portes, Jonathan. 2012. “Fiscal policy: What does ‘Keynesian’ mean?” (Feb. 7).

Carpenter, Daniel. 2010. "Institutional strangulation: Bureaucratic politics and financial reform in the Obama administration." Perspectives on Politics, 8 (3): 825-846.

Data and Information Sources

Bureau of Economic Analysis

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Federal Reserve

2. The Federal Budget: Skeleton of the State

Second paper assignment posted Oct. 22, due in lecture Oct. 29

A. An Overview of the Federal Budget (Oct. 1, 3, 8)

* Calmes, Jackie. 2012. "Test for Obama as deficit stays over $1 trillion." New York Times (Sept. 26).

* Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 2012. "Where do our federal tax dollars go?" (Aug.). Washington, DC: CBPP.

* Congressional Budget Office. 2012. "The budget and economic outlook: An update" (Aug.). Read Chapter 1.

* Leonhardt, David. 2012. “Old vs. young.” New York Times (June 22).

* Tritch, Teresa. 2011. “How the deficit got this big.” New York Times (July 23).

* New York Times. 2011. "How did the U.S. get $14.3 trillion in debt? And who are the creditors?" (chart) (July 28).

* Congressional Budget Office. 2012. “The 2012 long-term budget outlook” (June). Read the Summary.

* Leonhardt, David. 2011. “The deficit we want.” Economix blog, New York Times (Jan. 20).

* Kohut, Andrew. 2012. “Debt and deficit: A public opinion dilemma.” Pew Research Center.

Norris, Floyd. 2012. "As the U.S. borrows, who lends?" New York Times (Sept. 21).

Trotta, Daniel. 2011. "Cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting." Reuters (June 29).

Weisman, Jonathan. 2012. "Congress heads for home with rancor still evident." New York Times (Sept. 21).

Economist. 2012. “Cliff-diving.” Economist (May 5).

B. The Big Social Insurance Programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (Oct. 10, 17)

* Congressional Budget Office. 2012. “The 2012 long-term budget outlook” (June). Read pp. 45-52 and Chapter 4.

* Editors. 2011. “Social Security is no Ponzi scheme.” Bloomberg (Sept. 2).

* Kwak, James. 2011. “Our real deficit problem has nothing to do with traditional government.” The Atlantic (July 25).

* Pew Research Center. 2011. “Public wants changes in entitlements, not benefits” (July 7).

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2011. “Medicare at a glance.” Washington, DC: KFF.

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2011. “Medicaid matters: Understanding Medicaid’s role in our health care system.” Washington, DC: KFF.

Edwards, Kathryn A., et al. 2012. Young Person’s Guide to Social Security. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute and National Academy of Social Insurance.

Congressional Budget Office. 2010. “Social Security policy options” (July).

OASDI Trustees. 2012. "A summary of the 2012 annual Social Security and Medicare trust fund reports.”

C. Taxes and Tax Expenditures (Oct. 22, 24)

* Editors. 2002. “The non-taxpaying class.” Wall Street Journal (Nov. 20).

* Marr, Chuck, and Chye-Ching Huang. 2012. “Misconceptions and realities about who pays taxes.” Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

* Tax Policy Center. 2012. "Who doesn't pay federal taxes?" (chart)

* Krugman, Paul. 2003. "The tax-cut con." New York Times Magazine (Sept. 14).

* Gross, Daniel. 2006. "Raise the gasoline tax? Funny, it doesn’t sound Republican." New York Times (Oct. 8).

* Mettler, Suzanne, and John Sides. 2012. "We are the 96 percent." New York Times (Sept 24).

Porter, Eduardo. 2012. “A nation with too many tax breaks.” New York Times (March 13).

Citizens for Tax Justice. 2012. "Who pays taxes in America?" (April 4) Washington, DC: CTJ..

Holmes, Stephen, and Cass R. Sunstein. 1999. The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes. New York: Norton. Ch. 1. "All rights are positive."

Buffett, Warren E. 2011. “Stop coddling the super-rich.” New York Times (Aug. 15).

Brill, Alex M., and Alan D. Viard. 2011. “The benefits and limitations of income tax reform.” Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

Piketty, Thomas, and Emmanuel Saez. 2007. "How progressive is the U.S. federal tax system? A historical and international perspective." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21 (1): 3-24.

Congressional Budget Office. 2012. “The distribution of household income and federal taxes, 2008 and 2009” (July).

Joint Committee on Taxation. 2012. "Estimates of federal tax expenditures for fiscal years 2011-2015." Washington, DC: US Congress.

Slemrod, Joel and Jon Bakija. 2004. Taxing Ourselves: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes. 3rd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Bureau of the Public Debt. FAQ about the National Debt

Congressional Budget Office -- the definitive source of information on federal taxes and spending

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- nonprofit research center with emphasis on policies affecting low- to moderate-income people

Social Security Administration

Tax Policy Center -- a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution -- The National Debt to the Penny

3. Income, Inequality, and Injustice
Third paper assignment posted Nov. 12, due in lecture Nov. 19

A. Incomes and Wealth in America, Part 1 (Oct. 29, 31)

* U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011. Read pp. 5-20.

* Pew Research Center. 2011. “Wealth gaps rise to record highs between whites, blacks and Hispanics” (July 26). Read the Executive Summary.

* Noah, Timothy. 2010. "The Great Divergence." Slate (Sept. 14).

* Chart showing the disconnect between worker productivity and wages. Economic Policy Institute. 2011. The State of Working America. Washington, DC: EPI.

* Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2011. “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.” Vanity Fair (May).

* Frank, Robert H. 2010. “Income inequality: Too big to ignore.” New York Times (Oct.16).

* Editors. 2011. “Stay classy; Elite colleges and inequality.” The New Republic (Dec. 1).

Edsall, Thomas B. 2012. “Finding the limits of empathy.” New York Times (April 29).

Warren, Elizabeth. 2007. “The coming collapse of the middle class.” Jefferson Memorial Lecture (March 8), UC Berkeley. (Lecture begins 6 minutes into the video.)

Saez, Emmanuel. 2012. "Striking it richer: The evolution of top incomes in the United States (Updated with 2009 and 2010 estimates)."

Stille, Alexander. 2001. "Grounded by an income gap." New York Times (Dec. 15).

Hacker, Jacob S., and Paul Pierson. 2010. "Winner-take-all politics: Public policy, political organization, and the precipitous rise of top incomes in the United States." Politics & Society, 38 (2): 152-204.

Krugman, Paul 2002. "For richer." New York Times Magazine (Oct. 20).

Congressional Budget Office. 2011. "Trends in the distribution of household income between 1979 and 2007" (Oct.).

Peck, Don. 2011. “Can the middle class be saved?” The Atlantic (September).

Bartels, Larry M. 2008. Unequal Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Frank, Robert. 2007. How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hacker, Jacob S., and Paul Pierson. 2010. Winner-Take-All Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2012. The Price of Inequality. New York: Norton.

B. Incomes and Wealth in America, Part 2 (Nov. 5, 7)

* Wilson, William Julius. 2012. “The great disparity.” The Nation (July 10).

* Hout, Michael. 2004. Review of The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality, by Thomas M. Shapiro. Washington Post (Feb. 15).

* Morin, Richard. 2001. "Misperceptions cloud whites' view of blacks." Washington Post (July 11), p. A1.

Gilens, Martin. 1999. Why Americans Hate Welfare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ch. 5, “The news media and the racialization of poverty,” pp. 102-132.

Economist. 2002. "A stigma that never fades." Economist (Aug. 10).

Kotz, Nick. 2005. "Review of When Affirmative Action Was White, by Ira Katznelson." New York Times (Aug. 28).

Krueger, Alan B. 2002. "Sticks and stones can break bones, but the wrong name can make a job hard to find." New York Times (Dec. 12).

Lang, Kevin. 2007. Poverty and Discrimination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and Inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage. Introduction.

C. Reducing Poverty, Increasing Opportunity (Nov. 12, 14)

* Schott, Liz. 2011. “An introduction to TANF.” Washington, DC: CBPP.

* Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 2012. “The Earned-Income Tax Credit.” Washington, DC: CBPP.

* Traub, James 2000. "What no school can do." New York Times Magazine (Jan. 26).

* Tough, Paul. 2012. “Obama vs. poverty.” New York Times Magazine (Aug. 15).

Blank, Rebecca M. 2003. "Selecting among anti-poverty policies: Can an economist be both critical and caring?" Review of Social Economy, 61 (4): 447-470.

Blank, Rebecca, and Brian Kovak. 2008. "Helping disconnected single mothers." Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Trisi, Danilo, and LaDonna Pavetti. 2012. “TANF weakening as a safety net for poor families.” Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Evans, Gary W. 2004. “The environment of childhood poverty.” American Psychologist, 59 (2): 77–92.

Heckman, James J. 2011 “The economics of inequality: The value of early childhood education.” American Educator (Spring): 31-35, 47.

Mink, Gwendolyn. 2001. "Violating women: Rights abuses in the welfare police state." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (577: Sept.): 79-93.

Rank, Mark Robert. 2005. One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All. New York: Oxford University Press.


U.S. Census Bureau -- latest information on poverty in the U. S.

The Urban Institute -- extensive research on poverty, income, welfare, and work

4. The Politics of Health Care (NOTE: No class Nov. 21)
Fourth paper assignment posted Dec. 5, due Friday, Dec 14, 6:00 pm

A. Health Care in America: The Lay of the Land (Nov. 19, 26)

* Lowrey, Annie. 2012. "In hopeful sign, health spending is flattening out." New York Times (April 28).

* U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011. Read pp. 21-27.

* Abelson, Reed. 2008. "Millions with chronic disease get little to no treatment." New York Times (Aug. 5).

* Relman, Arnold. 2010. "Health care: The disquieting truth." New York Review of Books (Sept. 10).

Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. 2010. "The uninsured: A primer." Washington, DC: Kaiser Family Foundation.

Schoen, Cathy, et al. 2008. "How many are underinsured? Trends among U.S. adults, 2003 and 2007." Health Affairs, 27 (4): w298-w309.

Wilper, Andrew P., et al. 2008. "A national study of chronic disease prevalence and access to care in uninsured U.S. adults." Annals of Internal Medicine, 149 (3): 171-177.

Cutler, David M. 2004. Your Money or Your Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

B. Complexities of Health Care Policy (Nov. 28)

* Clement, Douglas. 2002. “Beyond supply and demand.” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Gazette (May 2002).

* Gladwell, Malcolm. 2005. "The moral-hazard myth." New Yorker (Aug. 29).

* Krugman, Paul, and Robin Wells. 2006. "The health care crisis and what to do about it." New York Review of Books, 53 (March 23).

Cassidy, John. 2009. How Markets Fail. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Ch. 12 "Hidden information and the market for lemons."

Emanuel, Ezekiel J., and Jeffrey B.Liebman. 2011. "Cut Medicare, help patients." New York Times (Aug. 22).

Arrow, Kenneth J. 1963. "Uncertainty and the welfare economics of medical care." American Economic Review, 53 (5): 941-973.

C. U.S. Health Care Policy in Comparative Perspective (Dec. 3)

* Reid, T. R."Frontline: Sick around the world." PBS. (View the 60-min. documentary online.)

* Reid, T. R. 2009. "5 myths about health care around the world." Washington Post (Aug. 23).

Agrisano, Carlos, et al. 2007. Accounting for the Cost of Health Care in the United States. San Francisco: McKinsey Global Institute. (Synthesis)

Mello, Michelle M., et al. 2010. “National costs of the medical liability system.” Health Affairs, 29 (9): 1569-1577.

Squires, David A. 2011. “The U.S. health system in perspective: A comparison of twelve industrialized nations.” Issues in International Health Policy, 18 (July).

Schoen, Cathy, et al. 2011. “Why not the best? Results from the national scorecard on U.S. health system performance, 2011.” Washington, DC: Commonwealth Fund.

D. The Affordable Care Act and Alternative Reforms (Dec. 5, 10)

* Gawande, Atul. 2012. "Something wicked this way comes." New Yorker (June 28).

* Commonwealth Fund. 2010. "Major provisions of the Affordable Care Act."

* Kliff, Sarah. 2012. "Health reform at 2: Why American health care will never be the same." Washington Post (March 24).

* Davis, Karen. 2006. "Consumer-directed health care: A panacea or the wrong prescription?" Physician Executive, 32, 5: 12-16.

* Porter, Eduardo. 2012. "Rationing health care more fairly." New York Times (Aug. 23).

Elmendorf, Douglas W. 2011. "CBO’s analysis of the major health care legislation enacted in March 2011." Washington, DC: CBO.

Newhouse, Joseph P. 2010. "Assessing health reform’s impact on four key groups of Americans." Health Affairs, 29 (9).

Congressional Budget Office. 2012.“Estimates for the insurance coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act updated for the recent Supreme Court decision” (July).

Dworkin, Ronald. 2012. “A bigger victory than we knew.” New York Review of Books (Aug. 16).

Rabin, Roni Caryn. 2010. "Big gains for young people in health law." New York Times (May 24).

El-Sayed, Abdulrahman. 2011. "Prevention vs. treatment and the perverse incentives inflating the costs of healthcare." Huffington Post (Oct. 18)

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2011. “Summary of the new health reform law.” Washington, DC: KFF.

Surowiecki, James. 2011. “Bitter pills.” The New Yorker (May 2).

Hacker, Jacob S. 2010. "The road to somewhere: Why health reform happened." Perspectives on Politics, 8 (3): 861-876.


OECD Health Data

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Kaiser Family Foundation