Bleg: public policy readings

Looking for nominees for books, articles, and blogs as a reading list for graduating MPP students.

The current graduating class of UCLA Master of Public Policy students – a spectacular bunch, in case any reader is looking to hire smart, serious people – has asked the faculty for a “third-year curriculum”: a reading list of books, articles, and (I would add) blogs that will allow them to continue to learn and grow professionally as they hit the workplace.

Nominees in comments, please. I’ll share the full list when it appears.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

30 thoughts on “Bleg: public policy readings”

  1. Michael J. Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (April 24, 2012), ISBN 978-0-374-20303-0

    1. Una mas:

      Boehm, C. (2011). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

      Notice a theme?
      In a nation of Brett Bellmores (who know the price of everything and the value of nothing) it is way past time to “wise” up about money, morality, and the way our forebears punished greed.

  2. Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine, Harper Colophon 1982, ISBN 0-465-07935-0.
    (Alternate choice, Paul Starr, Remedy and Reaction, Yale University Press 2011, ISBN 0-300-17109-9).

    The older book gives the reader a longer view.

  3. “Which Side Are You On?” and “The Law in Shambles” by Thomas Geoghegan, both superb.

    The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg, and Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov

  4. Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” I’ve only read the first five hundred (of 700) pages, but it’s an incisive and detailed — and witty — summary (hah!) of what we know about all aspects of violence.

  5. Ecclesiastes; it never ceases to be spot-on.

    Leaning conservative:
    Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource
    Because ideas are easy to underestimate, and are the only free lunch going.

    Murray and Herrnstein, The Bell Curve
    Skip the chapter on racial differences if it enables you to actually pay attention to the rest of the book. The point that systems built by smart people will tend to advantage smart people, and that smart people are more and more the only policy-makers, are critical.

    Leaning liberal:
    John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State
    Superb introduction to the dynamics of a society with large organizations.

    All over the place:
    Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
    For a rousing defense of the small-scale economy.

    Lincoln Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens
    For a look at how reform can has unexpected effects (Theodore Roosevelt as police commissioner of NYC).

  6. On Education:
    Meaningful Differences, Hart & Risley… The vocab/cognitive gap
    Unequal Childhoods, Annette Lareau… the parenting gap
    Changing the Odds for Children At Risk, Susan Neuman… why what we’ve tried hasn’t worked and what we ought to do instead

  7. This is a trick question, not so, in that we can assume these guys already will have read everything worthwhile about everything? So let me offer up some suggestions of stuff that may be in next year’s curriculum, if they haven’t made it yet. The common theme here is “execution,” as exemplified by the Hollywood cliche that it is just as hard to produce a bad movie as a good one. Anyway:

    One, Michael Hiltzik, Colossus, on the building of the Hoover Dam.
    Two, Earl Swift, the Big Roads on the highway system.
    Three, Steve Coll, Private Empire, on Exxon, worth it for the Valdez Chapter alone, but lots more good stuff on the desperate and unending search for energy. See:
    Four, John Gertner, The Idea Factory, about Bell Labs. The feel-good book of the year. Never quite delivers on its promise to explain why it all worked, but still fascinating and thought provoking. See
    Five, Arthur Herman, Freedom’s Forge, on industrial mobilization for WWII. Not as good as it should be, too much AEI claptrap about the evils of commies and unions and commie/unions. But some good stuff under the slime.

    And maybe the best, although the chances are you have already read it:

    Siddartha Muckerjee, The Emperor of All Maladies, on the History of the (War Against) Cancer. A bit sprawling, almost too many stories to tell. Modern part starts about 1983, when scientists get serious about monkeying around with enes. See

  8. I’d recommend Paul Watzlawick’s “How real is real?”

    This is not a public policy book as such, but a book about communication and perception (Paul Watzlawick was a psychologist and pioneer of communication theory). It is, however, eminently useful as a primer on many aspects of human behavior that shape or are the subject of public policy. The writing is a bit dated, but it is very accessible to a layperson, and makes for very entertaining reading still.

    The only caveat is that it may be difficult to find a copy nowadays.

  9. Hard to say without knowing exactly what’s on Y1 and Y2, but here’s some suggestions

    The Semisovereign People (Schattschneider) – great discussion of interaction of policy/politics
    Bureaucracy (Wilson) – impressively sober discussion of an easily-exaggerated/easily-dismissed problem
    Rethinking Social Policy (Jencks) – nice overview of social policy dilemmas
    The Economist’s View of the World (Rhoads) – because it’s good to know the use of economists and their limits
    Who Shall Live (Fuchs) – good discussion of some key healthcare issues
    Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs) – valuable for its way of thinking, as well as its content
    Welfare State Nobody Knows (Howard) – there’s a lot of policy beyond the headlines
    What It Means to be a Libertarian (Murray) – the best defense of what the Tea Party is getting at
    Death and Life of Great American Schools (Ravitch) – because markets in theory are a long way from practice
    The Unheavenly City (Banfield) – because culture matters
    Democracy and Its Critics (Dahl) – because it’s easy for policy advisers to forget who’s boss

    1. oh, and this is important too:
      The Logic of Congressional Action (Arnold) – because no-one has power unless Congress says OK

  10. Mauled Again, a blog on tax policy and law by a Villanova professor who teaches tax law. This blog is a constant reminder of the many ways in which taxes, tax enforcement and taxing authority can go off track. I challenge anyone to read 20 posts on this blog and not come away with much deeper insight into an area that desperately needs reform. This blog should be required reading for every member of Congress. Written by Professor James E. Maule.

    The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, plus other articles by the same author listed at The site lists his articles for the New Yorker, the New York Times and other publications, plus his medical-journal articles. The best writer today providing thoughtful, popular articles about decisionmaking and best practices in health care, health policy and issues such as health and hospice decisions for the dying that affect ordinary people and aren’t well understood.

    Ask a Manager, a blog by Alison Green. If the students are going to be working, here’s a place to ask work questions and a reliable place to get sensible advice about being hired, working and being managed or managing employees in the real world. She also posts links to her columns at U.S. News and World Report and elsewhere.

    If the graduates are dealing with higher education policy, the Chronicle of Higher Education is probably a necessity. It also has a wide range of articles on various academic topics, not just the mechanics and fads in academia. It provides a way to learn about other fields, which specialists often neglect.

    Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us), by Tom Vanderbilt. He also has a blog that he posts infrequently on. Transportation is another issue of daily life that isn’t well understood by the average person.

  11. Blogs:

    The Incidental Economist (Health care policy)
    The Volokh Conspiracy (Various, especially free speech)
    The Agitator (Radley Balko) (Crime policy and policing)
    Houston’s Clear Thinkers, especially the criminalization of business category (business law)

    Dead bloggerss:
    Tanta’s posts on Calculated Risk, especially the UberNerd posts (mortgage and housing policy)
    Larry Ribstein’s at ideoblog(business law)

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