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Public policy refers to the actions taken by government — its decisions that are intended to solve problems and improve the quality of life for its citizens. At the federal level, public policies are enacted to regulate industry and business, to protect citizens at home and abroad, to aid state and city governments, to help people such as the poor through funding programs and to encourage social goals. A policy established and carried out by the government goes through several stages from inception to conclusion. These are agenda building, formulation, adoption, implementation and evaluation.

It is impossible to separate policymaking from politics. Many groups with different interests and their own agendas are involved in all stages of policymaking. A good example is the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, the reform law contains provisions for cuts in direct federal aid and new work requirements that troubled many Democrats and organizations representing the poor. President Bill Clinton signed the bill after some hesitation and then indicated that he would seek changes in the law during the next session of Congress.

The formulation and adoption of public policy can be either hampered or advanced by the way things are done in Congress. Bills for the construction of major public works that benefit a particular district or state, such as bridges, dams and highways or the establishment of military bases, are known as pork-barrel legislation. While such programs do create jobs, they may run counter to a broader policy direction, such as the need to cut the federal budget deficit. Often, representatives from different states and even different parties may agree to support each other's legislative agendas. A New York congressman may support a water project in Arizona in return for his Arizona colleague's vote on a mass transit appropriation for the Northeast. This practice is known as logrolling, and it is a way of building coalitions that may back a new policy direction.

There are three broad areas of public policy: domestic policy, economic policy and foreign policy. Some political scientists would include defense policy as a fourth.













Domestic Policy

There are two major categories of domestic policy: regulatory policy and social welfare policy.


Regulatory Policy

USDA LABELThrough regulatory policy, the federal government supervises the actions of individuals, businesses and government institutions. Historically, the desire for regulation grew out of widespread unhappiness with the actions of profit-making businesses. For example, railroads in the late 19th century often charged more for shipping over short distances than over long ones. This pricing made sense for their business needs, but it was politically unacceptable because the nation's numerous small farmers were more likely to send goods a short distance, and the pricing was perceived as discriminatory. This and other discriminatory rate practices led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and rates regulation in 1887. During the Progressive Era, exposés about the way the food and drug industries operated resulted in Congress's passing the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906), which created the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Regulatory activities include setting fair prices for goods and services, granting licenses and franchises, establishing safety standards for the workplace and transportation, providing resources (such as hydroelectric power from federal dams) and setting rates, monitoring and enforcing compliance with statutes relating to discrimination and protecting the environment.

The scope of regulatory policies can be seen in the array of independent commissions and agencies responsible for their implementation. In addition, there are the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which watches over the stock markets and stock transactions; the EPA, which safeguards the environment; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), both of which were created in response to the failure of business to adequately protect its workers and customers; and the NationalFINANCIAL INDUSTRY REGULATION CARTOON Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Also, many federal regulatory agencies have their counterparts at the state and even local levels.

Regulatory policy is usually criticized because of the costs it imposes on business. American consumers and workers generally bear those costs: consumers through the price of products and workers when their place of business must compete with unregulated foreign concerns. Nevertheless, setting domestic policy through regulation is tempting to federal legislators because it allows them to take action on a problem and command a change of course without directly paying for anything they order. Another concern with government regulation of industry is that policy decisions often respond to political considerations rather than technical ones, which may mean hurting businesses for no good reason, or it may give certain businesses the opportunity to manipulate regulations so that they make more profit.

Deregulation began in the 1970s and was based on the notion that regulation was suppressing economic competition. The actual record has been mixed, however. Deregulation does seem to produce greater product innovation and more new company startups, but it has also resulted in the collapse or merger of inefficient large companies. For example, the deregulation of the airline industry decreased fares as numerous small carriers went into operation. Most quickly failed, leading to greater consolidation. In the telephone industry, the deregulation that came with the breakup of AT&T has created a rash of confusing rate charges and services that many people feel are just too complicated to follow. The lack of regulation over the savings industry is seen by many as a cause of the extremely costly savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s. In California, the deregulation of investor-owned utilities contributed to rolling blackouts, higher prices and serious financial problems for major power companies.




POVERTY & POLICYFoundations of Social Welfare Policy

Equality of Opportunity

o   The ability to freely use individual talents and wealth to reach one's full potential.

o   Idea enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: everyone is created equal and has the right to pursue happiness.

o   Different educational opportunities, class backgrounds and discrimination result in different outcomes.

o   Equal opportunity does not mean equal result.

o   US is predicated on everyone having an opportunity to succeed, but this is not guaranteed.

o   Premise of equality of opportunity led to antidiscrimination laws, desegregation and mass public education.

The Politics of Redistributive Policy

o   Reflect the interests of elected leaders in getting re-elected.

o   Power-elite theory: the decisions of the affluent are what guides the society

o   Pluralistic theory: Decisions are made as part of a near-constant conflict between groups, with no one group winning consistently.


Annual health spending per person, by countryUS Bias against the Welfare State

o   Welfare state refers to the government playing a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens.

o   The settlement of the American continent, though, developed a strong faith in US individualism.

o   Frontier alleviated poverty by allowing relocation to Western lands.

o   Americans saw two classes of poor: deserving and undeserving.

o   Deserving poor are widows, orphans and others rendered dependent by some misfortune.

o   Undeserving poor are able-bodied persons who are unwilling to work.

o   Private charities (those who volunteer to run them and fund them) should take care of the poor, not the government.

Beginnings of the US Welfare StateSocial Security is the most effective anti-poverty program.

o   Social Security Act of 1935 established two categories of welfare: contributory and noncontributory.

o   Contributory programs: such as Social Security (eligibility at 62 with no means test)

o   Financed by taxation, known as forced savings.

o   "Old age insurance"

o   Financed by equal contributions from the employee and employer.

o   Although many believe the money they draw out is the money they paid in, that's not correct.

o   Current workers support retired workers.

o   Creates a slight shift of money from rich to poor, and a much more significant shift of money from young to old.

o   Medicare (1965) premiums provide medical insurance to those over 65 with no means test.

o   In 2003 prescription drug coverage was added.

A Century of Change Population of the US

o   Noncontributory programs

o   Known as public assistance programs or welfare.

o   Eligibility determined by means testing: procedure that requires applicants to show financial need for assistance.

o   Examples

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (1935) for single parents with children

Medicaid (1965) medical service for the poor

Supplemental Security Income (1974) support for blind and disabled

Food stamp coupons exchanged for food

o   Goldberg v. Kelly (1970): inaugurated concept of entitlement ... Recipients have a due process right to receive benefits if they are eligible and programs exist (programs can be cut).

o   Benefits cannot be terminated without due process.

o   Entitlements: Spending for both contributory and noncontributory programs is mandatory and cannot be changed during the budget process. The benefits must be paid to any recipient who meets the criteria for eligibility.

o   Today, Americans are more open to the idea that those in need deserve assistance but they don't always understand what that entails.


Arguments Against the Welfare State

o   costs too much money

o   is too paternalistic

o   is too redistributive (takes money from one group and gives it to another)

o   is an example of a moral hazard.

o   Moral hazard: The danger or probability that a policy will encourage the behavior or bring about the problem it was designed to prevent.

o   Examples

People with theft insurance will not lock their cars as often.

People will not work as hard because welfare programs will make sure they don’t starve.

Women will have more children because they receive more money per child.

Discourages marriage because the husband's income not needed and would often make women ineligible for entitlements.

Arguments for the Welfare State

o   good fiscal policy because it increases consumption in economic downturns

o   is paternalistic, resulting in enforced savings

o   a savior of capitalism

o   Bismarck: "I will consider it a great advantage when we have 700,000 small pensioners drawing their annuities from the state, especially if they belong to those classes who otherwise do not have much to lose by an upheaval and erroneously believe they can actually gain much by it."

o   politically essential

o   Government has a responsibility to its citizens

o   Madison: "Justice is the end of government."

Evolution of the US Welfare State

o   Public assistance refers to assistance programs that provide either cash assistance or in-kind benefits to individuals and families from any governmental entity. There are two major types of public assistance programs; social welfare programs and social insurance programs.

o   Benefits received from social welfare programs are usually based on a low income means-tested eligibility criteria. Some of the major federal, state, and local social welfare programs are:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), including Pass through Child Support

General Assistance (GA)

o   Benefits received from social insurance programs are usually based on eligibility criteria such as age, employment status, or being a veteran. Some of the major federal, state, and local social insurance programs are:

Social security (self and on behalf of a dependent child)

Department of Veterans' Affairs benefits (except Veteran's pension)

Unemployment insurance compensation

Workers' compensation

o   50 Important Welfare Statistics for 2023

Welfare Reform

o   Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA)

o   Ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

o   Created Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provides block grants to the states

o   Gave states greater flexibility in creating programs (child care, job training, transportation).

o   Imposed five-year time limit on TANF benefits.

o   Imposed work requirement after two years of receiving benefits.

o   Since 1996, welfare rolls have reduced by over 50%.

o   Has reduced welfare rolls, (people getting assistance) but has not reduced poverty.

o   What will happen to former welfare recipients in an economic downturn? (See What it’s like to live on $2 a day in the United States (PDF))

Estimated Welfare Spending in 2023Among PRWORA's provisions, the law eliminated three prior federal assistance programs and replaced them with TANF, a block grant program. This meant that additional federal funds should no longer be used to pay for TANF benefits to any adult for more than a total of 60 months during that person's lifetime. Receipt of TANF benefits came with work requirements, and states were granted flexibility in designing their TANF programs. The law also made lawful permanent residents ineligible to receive federal means-tested benefits for five years after being granted permanent residency. Legislators backed the reform because it was meant to achieve several objectives that would in their view improve family welfare: financial assistance for needy families, promotion of work and marriage, prevention of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and encouragement of two-parent families. Too, turning welfare into a block grant helped hold TANF spending in check. But while TANF spending may have declined, total spending on antipoverty programs rose dramatically. Federal antipoverty spending alone has more than doubled since 1996 and state spending has risen as well. Yet all of this additional spending has failed to further reduce poverty. Nor has welfare reform had much of an impact on Fast food workers on welfareeconomic mobility.

The post‐​welfare reform world looks troublingly like the pre‐​welfare reform one. If you look beyond TANF, total welfare spending continues to increase rapidly. While that additional spending may well reduce the discomfort of poverty, it does little to help people get out of poverty. Moreover, many of the structural incentive problems with welfare remain. The 1996 Act ultimately reformed a welfare program, but not the welfare system.

Poverty Under TANF:

Two-thirds of participants are children, elderly and people with disabilities.

Adult participants work as much as non-participants but hold low-paying jobs with irregular schedules, unannounced schedule changes and no sick leave (or other benefits) or job security. Too, they often hold part time, short term or contract jobs, even when they want full-time work.

Such work often leads to a lack of stable housing and affordable child care, further exacerbating their employment problems.

Addressing such employment barriers would more effectively help reduce the number of participants and shorten the length of time participants need assistance but because that would be more costly in the short term than the current monthly assistance, lawmakers balk at such measures.


Other Social Policy Issues

o   Education Reform

o   GI Bill (1944): money for secondary education

o   National Defense Education Act (1958): federal spending for math and science instruction after Sputnik launch

o   School funding is based on local real estate taxes. Results in large disparity in school spending by county.

o   Vouchers (school choice) allow parents to spend tax dollars in a school of their choice.

o   Creates further pressure on poor schools.

o   No Child Left Behind (2001): Regular testing required with attention paid to poor, racial minorities and special education student scores. Consistent failure means students can transfer for free to other schools in the same district.

o   The US Supreme Court struck down affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard (2023). The conservative majority said colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission, a landmark decision overturning long-standing precedent that has benefited Black and Latino students in higher education. The Court did not ban gender consciousness in college admissions, or legacy consciousness, wealth consciousness, geographic consciousness, or athletic consciousness … only race. Further, the ruling said that US military service academies can continue to take race into consideration as a factor in admissions to further the nation’s compelling interest of diversity. Huh?

o   In a 6-3 decision in Biden v. Nebraska (2023), the US Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, rejecting a program aimed at delivering up to $20,000 of relief to millions of borrowers struggling with outstanding student debt, citing an overreach of authority by the President and Secretary of Education.

Medicaid Enrollment Growth 2023

o   Health Care

o   Health care is primarily private. Clinton attempted comprehensive reform but failed. Obama succeeded in getting comprehensive reform through Congress but it is still being challenged in the courts and there are continuing efforts by the current Congress and administration to alter or fundamentally change the program.

o   Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the number of uninsured Americans decreased from 44 million in 2013 (the year before the major coverage provisions went into effect) to 28 million as of the end of 2016.

o   Most remaining uninsured people are in working families, with low incomes. Over two-thirds (68%) of the uninsured have been without coverage for long periods of time. Many of those, particularly poor adults in states that did not expand Medicaid, remain ineligible for financial assistance for coverage. There are 30 million uninsured Americans as of 2023, including 9 million children. (Texas had the largest 2023 uninsured rate: 18.4%, and growing.)

o   The uninsured rate among children has reached an all-time low of 5%, and most still uninsured children are eligible but not enrolled. Oregon leads state efforts to provide health coverage for children. Half of all uninsured children reside in six states (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas). Nearly 12% of children in Texas were uninsured in 2021.

Nearly 2 million kids were kicked off Medicaid in 2023 … explained in 4 charts. - In the six months since states began double-checking the eligibility of people enrolled in their Medicaid programs, more than 8.5 million Americans have lost their Medicaid benefits. Many of those losing coverage are losing it because of administrative hiccups and would otherwise be eligible - a problem that is disproportionately impacting children. A majority of states are automatically disqualifying everybody in a family if they find that one person (most likely a parent) is no longer eligible for Medicaid. It has demanded states take steps to make sure they are evaluating the eligibility of each individual, to ensure children are not being unnecessarily removed from Medicaid.

A big new report on American children is out. It’s horrific.

o   In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), the US Supreme Court decided in a 5–4 vote that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. This allowed the legislation to stand and the more transforming parts to be implemented. However, the Court decided that states were not required to expand their Medicaid programs and if they chose not to expand they did not risk their current levels of federal funding.

o   In Biden v. Missouri (2022), the US Supreme Court held 5-4 that Health and Human Services was authorized to issue vaccine mandates because it was similar to other safety requirements that HHS was authorized to impose on participants in federal healthcare programs.

o   In NFIB v. OSHA (2022), the US Supreme Court struck down a vaccine mandate enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a 6-3 decision, reasoning that the vaccine mandate is a broad public health measure and therefore not within OSHA’s jurisdiction.

o   Unpaid Family Caregiving Policy

o   The amount of time Americans spend providing essential care to children and adults has a substantial personal economic cost that continues long after the caregiving ends. The estimated employment-related costs for those providing unpaid care averages $295,000 over a lifetime, based on the 2021 US dollar value, adjusted for inflation. Unpaid family caregiving reduces lifetime earnings by 15%, which also creates a reduction in retirement income. (These costs are likely conservative estimates that do not include the total economic costs borne by all caregivers.) Families often think first of immediate demands out of necessity. Children, aging loved ones and people with disabilities need care right now, and when that care is needed during working hours - or is too expensive or inaccessible - it is the women who usually scale back on paid work to provide care. Lacking the necessary care infrastructure and safety net affects more than those immediate moments. They continue throughout a woman’s life.

o   Housing Policy

o   Urban redevelopment focuses on redistributing housing for the poor to integrate them with the middle class.

o   Reproductive Rights Policy

o   Where Americans Stand On Abortion, In 5 Charts

o   In its 6-3 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision (2022), the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey (1992), and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), erasing nearly 50 years of precedent, ending the federal constitutional right to abortion in the US and setting the stage for the removal of other federal constitutional rights such as contraception and gay marriage.

o   Immediately or shortly after Dobbs, many state prohibitions that were pre-Roe laws or trigger bans went into effect. Many of the laws were near-2023 State Abortion Banstotal abortion bans affecting millions of people. Even in states where abortion was available, the influx of patients from states with severe restrictions created lengthy waiting times for the procedure. Abortion providers and advocacy organizations challenged many of the state bans but, because the US Constitution no longer protects abortion rights, these cases are being heard in state courts rather than federal courts. Initiatives were put on the 2022 ballot in six states and voters showed their support for abortion rights and access. Most of these initiatives were state constitutional amendments. The Department of Defense policy remained unchanged, 'covered abortions' - those cases that involve rape, incest or where the life of the mother would be endangered - continued to be authorized to use federal funds, including travel funds, and facilities.

o   Following Dobbs and the 2022 elections, conservative members of the US House of Representatives began to work to piece together federal abortion policy changes. Anti-abortion riders (policy provisions unrelated to the bills to which they are attached) were included in multiple budget, agricultural, defense, financial services and other bills. The broad effort to include poison pills in the appropriations process potentially heightens the odds of a government shutdown due to lack of funding but Republicans were hesitant, if not outright opposed, to roll call votes on abortion proposals in the face of public opinion. (Majorities of Americans say they disagree (56%) with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, think it was politically motivated (57%), are concerned the court will now reconsider rulings that protect other rights (56%), and are more likely to vote for a candidate who would restore the right to an abortion (51%).)

o   Laboratory tests to detect abortion drugs have been created in Poland, where all abortion is illegal, and are being used to investigate the outcomes of pregnancies. In El Salvador, where abortion is banned under all circumstances, including when the mother’s life or health is in danger and in cases of rape, women who suffer miscarriages and stillbirths are often accused of homicide and sentenced to years or even decades in prison. In the US, doctors and nurses have discretionary power to interpret state statutes and report their patients to law enforcement and a visit to a doctor’s office or hospital can double as a criminal investigation, leading to arrest and prosecution under a wide range of laws that purport to protect fetuses. It is not farfetched to wonder if the same policies used in Poland and El Salvador might eventually find support with state lawmakers in the US.


US Social Security benefits are lower than in many other developed nations.

Social welfare policy deals with the causes and effects of poverty. After decades of legislation and federal programs to address the problem, poverty still persists in our affluent society. Efforts such as Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty produced only limited results. In the 1990s, more than 35 million Americans were poor, as measured by the federal definition of poverty, which is an income of less than about $27,750 per year for a nonfarm family of four, $13,590 for an individual (2023).

The first federal attempt to deal with poverty came in 1935 with the Social Security Act. Under the Social Security program, employers deduct money from the paychecks of their employees, match it with an equal amount of their own money, and then send it to the federal government to provide for a pension program. Most people think of Social Security as a form of insurance or savings — that is, they put aside the money, and it is saved for their retirement — but this impression is incorrect. Social Security uses the money paid by today's workers to cover the pensions received by today's elderly. Current workers have no tangible guarantee that society will continue redistributing wealth to the elderly when their turn comes. As the number of able-bodied workers declines and the number of elderly increases, the Social Security program is extremely unlikely to continue paying benefits at the rate it does now.

Several changes in the Social Security program have added to its cost. Money is paid out of the pension program for disabled workers and for the survivors of deceased workers. People who were not provided for in the original legislation — the self-employed and many government workers — are now covered. Benefits are expanded to include cost-of-living adjustments known as COLAs. As a result of all these general benefits, payroll taxes were increased and benefits reduced in the early 1980s — yet the Social Security trust fund is still running out of money. The aging of the population has raised serious questions about the fund's long-term solvency. Responding to the retirement of baby boomers, President George W. Bush proposed partial privatization of Social Security. Under his plan, which did not garner significant support in or out of Congress, workers would have been allowed to invest part of their payroll taxes in the stock market.

Social Security benefits are a perennial target for cuts because the program faces a long-run shortfall. Some lawmakers mistakenly portray the program’s benefits as lavish. The fact is, benefits are modest and workers have earned them by paying into Social Security - protecting themselves and their families if they retire, become disabled or die leaving family members to support.

Benefit cuts would create a hardship for many Americans for a number of reasons.Defined-benefit pension plans are declining.

Social Security benefits have always been modest.

Most beneficiaries rely on Social Security for most of their income and that number is growing.

More and more beneficiaries will lack other pension benefits because fewer and fewer employers are providing employer-provided, defined benefit pension plans.

Social Security benefits in the US are lower than in many other developed countries.

Future retirees face a benefit squeeze for two reasons: (1) the percentage of previous earnings replaced by Social Security has fallen over time and will continue to fall further as the program’s age for full benefits (or full retirement age) rises due to legislation enacted in 1983 and (2) rising Medicare premiums (which are deducted from beneficiaries’ monthly Social Security benefits) will take a growing bite out of beneficiaries’ Social Security checks. And as health care costs continue to outpace wage growth, those premiums will eat further into future retirees’ Social Security checks.

The Social Security Administration is also responsible for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program established in 1974. SSI is funded by general tax revenues, and provides money to elderly (individuals 65 and older), the blind and disabled people who have little or no income.

Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty focused on employment and healthcare for the elderly and the poor. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 created the Jobs Corp, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, Head Start and community action programs that the poor had a hand in running. With the exception of Head Start, many of these projects had their funding cut as the Vietnam War escalated.Ratio of Social Security Beneficiary to Taxpaying Workers

Medicare, enacted in 1965, provides basic health insurance and hospitalization coverage for people over the age of 65 and is paid for by payroll taxes on both employees and employers and on retired persons. The program was recently expanded considerably with the addition of a prescription drug benefit. Medicare, however, may face an even more serious financial crisis than Social Security due to the fact that Americans are living longer and healthcare costs continue to increase. Under Medicaid, medical benefits for the poor are administered by state programs, with the federal government paying for a portion of the costs. Both programs fall far short of a comprehensive national approach to healthcare, yet they are already by far the biggest drain on the national treasury of anything in the federal budget.

Entitlements, the costs associated with such social welfare policies as Social Security and Medicare, make up a significant portion of the federal budget. These costs increase as more people become eligible for benefits, a situation difficult to control because it is very much tied to the aging of the population. Congress and several administrations have found it difficult to reduce or eliminate entitlements, particularly for the elderly, who are represented by a powerful lobby in the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Some changes have had to be made, however, such as increasing payroll taxes, reducing COLAs and extending the retirement Two-Thirds of Americans Now Receive Monthly Benefit Checks (2021)age. For those born in 1960 or later, the retirement age for Social Security is 67.

IRS CARTOONBudget cutters have had far more success trimming aid to the poor, who lack the political clout of the elderly. Social welfare policy also affects other issues, such as immigration and homelessness. Federal mandates require the states to shoulder a heavy financial burden to assist immigrants. This responsibility has sparked a major debate over just what social services, if any, both legal and illegal immigrants are entitled to. The country is also trying to find a policy approach to reduce homelessness. The number of homeless in the US has increased significantly beginning in the 1980s, due to a recession and spending cuts in public housing, drug treatment and mental health programs.

Another Republican Lie About Obamacare Is Exposed

The Last Republican Lie About Obamacare Is Being Exposed

We’re No. 28! And Dropping!

The share of Americans living in poverty fell to a record low in 2021, as government relief programs offset pandemic job losses.

Congress found an easy way to fix child poverty. Then it walked away.

Why Poverty Persists in America

US Supreme Court upholds landmark health reform law but says states cannot be penalized for not expanding Medicaid programs to cover more people

US Supreme Court preserves right to sue to enforce state compliance with Medicaid requirements.

Social Security, Medicare far from doomed, policy expert says

Social Security trust funds depletion date moves one year earlier to 2034, Treasury says.

What the data says about food stamps in the US

Child poverty more than doubled between 2021 and 2022.

Poverty rate soared in 2022 as aid ended and prices rose.

"Persistent poverty" exists across much of the US: "The ultimate left-behind places"

America’s Surprising Partisan Divide on Life Expectancy

House Republican Proposals Hurt Rural Communities












Economic Policy



o   Prior to 1929 there was little government intervention in the economy (consistent with Adam Smith).

o   The Great Depression convinced many Americans that it was the government’s job to provide job security and a host of New Deal programs that injected the federal government into banking, labor, working conditions, minimum wages and other areas of the economy. (After Sept 11 Congress wrote a $15 billion financial package to prop up the airline industry.)

o   How does government make a market economy possible?

o   Provide law and order: predictable and stable legal system (no national police force, no national criminal law, no national common law, no national property laws)

o   Define the rules of property: labor, ideas, real estate, concrete goods – What do you have control over/what do you not have control over?

o   Enforce contracts: Contracts must be legally enforceable or they are worthless.

o   Oversee rules of exchange: What can be sold? (not drugs, for example) When can things be sold? (sometimes witnesses needed for agreements to borrow money, for example)

o   Set market standards: create standards for products (When can you call something “dark chocolate” or “fresh” or “organic”?), weights and measures (ensure a pound is a pound)

o   Provide public goods: provide infrastructure needed by economy – Roads facilitate easy buying and selling. Government involvement needed to avoid “free rider” problem.

o   Create a labor force: compulsory education laws, keep social benefits low enough to encourage work

o   Ameliorate externalities: means of regulating damaging behavior whose public costs exceed private costs – regulate pollution, worker safety laws, control free-riding (or the tragedy of the commons)

o   Promote competition: prevent and/or break up up monopolies, deregulation – reducing or eliminating regulatory restraints on the conduct of individuals or private institutions.

o   Therefore, the basis of government involvement in the economy: When the market fails, the government intervenes.


In developing an economic policy, government officials rely on the recommendations of economists who typically base their analyses on theories of how the economy works or should work. As might be expected, economists often disagree on the cause of a stock market decline or the best solution for curbing inflation.

ADAM SMITHThe first, and for a long time the only, widely accepted economic theory was the laissez-faire theory proposed by Adam Smith in his book, Wealth of Nations (1776). Laissez-faire roughly translates as "to leave alone," and it means that government should not interfere in the economy. This theory favors low taxes and free trade, and it strongly holds that the market is self-adjusting — whatever happens will be corrected over time without the help of the government.

John Maynard Keynes, an English economist, published his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) during the Depression. He argued that government should manipulate the economy to reverse the periodic downturns that take place in the market. Keynes maintained that economic depression was due to a lack of consumer demand. This created excess inventories of goods that forced business to cut production and lay off workers, which led to fewer consumers and even lower demand. The solution was to increase demand by increasing government spending and cutting taxes. This fiscal policy, as it became known, left people with more money after taxes and basic obligations to use for goods and services. Factories increased production to meet the demand and hired more workers, thereby ending the cycle.

Franklin Roosevelt used many of Keynes's ideas in the New Deal. The federal government became the "employer of last resort" through such programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These programs did not bring the country out of the Depression, however. The end to the Depression is more attributable to increased defense spending as World War II approached.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Keynesian economics fell into disrepute because it did not offer a solution for dealing withFEDERAL RESERVE CARTOON unemployment and inflation at the same time. Some economists argued that the Keynesian theory invited excessive government intervention. To monetarists, inflation, unemployment and stagnation were caused by policies that adversely affected an otherwise stable economy. Led by economist Milton Friedman, they argued that the best way to create a healthy economy is to control the supply of money. The machinery to implement this policy already existed in the Federal Reserve system, which was established in 1913.

The Federal Reserve system consists of 12 banks under a board of governors whose members serve staggered 14-year terms. This long term frees the board from the political influence of any one administration. The Federal Reserve Board controls the supply of money by buying and selling federal government securities, regulating how much money Federal Reserve banks have on deposit and setting interest rates that member banks pay when they borrow from the Federal Reserve. The purpose is either to stimulate the economy by loosening the money supply or cool it down by tightening the money supply. In other words, the Fed lowers interest rates when the economy is sluggish and raises rates when inflation threatens.

Another economic problem of the late 1970s was exploding budget deficits. Because the budget is part of fiscal policy, not monetary policy, monetarism did not speak to this problem directly. Another group, called supply-side economists, offered the surprising suggestion that government could raise more money by cutting taxes. Their argument was fairly straightforward: High taxes were limiting national productivity, so lowering taxes would stimulate economic growth and eventually produce more revenue. The Reagan administration accepted this approach, so much so that supply-side economics became known as Reaganomics.

Two problems compromised the success of supply-side policies. The Reagan administration increased defense spending dramatically (something the theory did not take into account). Increased expenses combined with the tax cuts to produce a massive budget deficit. Moreover, much of consumers' economic windfall went to buy products manufactured in foreign countries, and so provided little direct stimulus to the US economy. Budget deficits grew even more, and unemployment remained (at least temporarily) high.




1. Combination of monetarism, supply-side tax cuts and domestic budget cutting

2. Goals are not consistent.

    a. reduction in size of federal government

    b. stimulate economic growth

    c. increase in military strength

3. Effects

    a. The rate of growth of spending slowed but not spending itself.

    b. Military spending increased.

    c. The money supply was controlled ... so it cut inflation but it allowed interest rates to rise.

    d. Personal income taxes were cut but Social Security taxes were increased.

    e. Large deficits incurred, dramatically increasing the size of the national debt.

    f. It stimulated the economy ... unemployment decreased, business activity increased.




1. Bidenomics is shorthand for the Biden administration’s economic strategy of boosting the middle class through government investments rather than using tax cuts focused on the wealthy and big corporations.

a. Long before his presidency, Biden saw trickle-down economics as a failed approach leading to a pullback of private investment from key industries, a deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure, a sharp increase in inequality and the loss of a path to the middle class for too many Americans and too many communities around the country.

b. Trickle-down economics (or Reaganomics), the theory that tax cuts for the wealthy would trickle down to everyone if government got out of the way, resulted in significantly inequitable outcomes that were blamed on individuals or communities. If you didn’t thrive or even just survive, it was because you didn’t try hard enough or because an immigrant was taking your job.

2. Biden vowed to put in place a very different approach, a new paradigm for America’s economic success, one that grew the economy from the bottom up and that was focused on growing the country’s middle class. This new paradigm potentially sounded the death knell for the neoliberal era of trickle-down economics, where markets were deemed to be efficient and best left alone.

a. Neoliberalism was already being questioned in the US: the global financial crisis showed financial markets could bring economies to their knees and rising inequality caused people to question whether capitalism was really working for them.

3. Three key areas make up Bidenomics.

a. Make "smart investments in America" by encouraging more private investment in infrastructure, clean energy and semiconductors … and doing it in partnership with friends and allies around the world, and in a way that achieved climate goals.  Government was no longer shying away from pushing investment toward specific goals and industries. Bidenomics meant government spending and investment in infrastructure and services that created jobs and growth. Spending on public works was back in fashion. New free-trade treaties were no longer at the heart of the nation’s international strategy. Focusing on infrastructure, clean energy and semiconductors, the aim was to attract private investment.

b. "Empower and educate American workers" through steps to prepare workers for the jobs of the future, including the development of job skills that didn’t require four-year college degrees, as well as supporting pro-union legislation making it easier to organize and negotiate higher wages, and creating apprenticeships.

c. Promote competition to lower costs and help entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed. To provide a "level playing field for small businesses," the president focused on boosting competition through a variety of measures.

d. Much of the Bidenomics package is contained in four key measures: the American Rescue Plan (2021), the CHIPS and Science Act (2022), the Inflation Reduction Act (2022) and the massive Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (2023).

e. Still to come is the $2.25 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) program focusing on infrastructure and jobs. The BBB adopts a more flexible definition of infrastructure in order to include the expansion of long-term care for older adults through Medicaid, investing in community-based violence reduction programs, supporting research and development, and bolstering manufacturing. The BBB also focuses on care jobs (work done in the service of others, including domestic unpaid work) with an aim to transform them from low-wage low-hour jobs to high-wage high-hour as well. Care jobs cannot be automated or sent overseas, and the Biden administration identified them as a way to support the domestic labor force.


The US Economy, 2015 (PDF)

Gap between Economic Elite and General Public Created Not by Differences in Expertise but in Priorities

The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion from the Bottom 90% - And That's Made the US Less Secure

The Rise and Fall of Neoliberalism



The Main Goals of US Economic Policy

o   Ensure public order and private property rights

o   Federal government regulates mail fraud and counterfeiting, but state law handles most business issues.

o   Private property is a central value to Americans, but the construction of roads and other public projects requires the government have the right of eminent domain (though the 5th amendment requires due process and fair market value for compensation).

o   Eminent Domain: the right of government to take private property for public use, with reasonable compensation awarded for the property.

o   Expropriation: confiscation of property with or without compensation (parks, highways, etc)

o   Homesteading: A national policy that permits people to gain ownership of property by occupying public or unclaimed lands, living on the land for a specified period of time and making certain minimal improvements on that land. Also known as squatting.

o   Maintain a strong economy

o   stable prices

o   full employment

o   economic growth

o   Encourage business development

o   Often accomplished through Congressional pork projects approved through logrolling.

o   Categorical Grants-in-Aid: funds given by Congress to states and localities, earmarked by law for specific categories such as education or crime prevention.

o   Subsidies: governmental grants of cash or other valuable commodities such as land to individuals or organizations. Subsidies can be used to promote activities desired by the government, to reward political support or to buy off political opposition.

o   The creation of public roads, canals and subsidized railroads opened up markets.

o   In the past, railroads were subsidized and land grants were given to settlers. Today, the government subsidies farmers and provides financial incentives and/or tax breaks for businesses.

o   Contracts: Government can award contracts aimed at promoting an industry / segment of labor (airlines in the 1930s or equal employment opportunities in the 1960s). Government can also set conditions on companies seeking to sell goods or services to government agencies.


To maintain a strong economy, the federal government seeks to accomplish three policy goals: stable prices, full employment and economic growth. In addition to these three policy goals, the federal government has other objectives to maintain sound economic policy. These include low or stable interest rates, a balanced budget (or at least a budget with a reduced deficit from the previous budget) and a trade balance with other countries.

When prices for goods and services increase sharply, the value of money is reduced and it costs more to buy the same things. This condition is called inflation. When inflation is kept low, prices remain at the same level. Circumstances beyond the government's control can affect prices. A prolonged drought in the corn belt or an early freeze that hits the orange crop in Florida creates shortages that lead to higher prices. Higher prices for certain critical goods, such as oil, can create inflationary prices throughout the economy.

Absolute full employment is impossible to achieve. At any given time, people are quitting their jobs or are unable to work for a variety of reasons. An unemployment rate (the percentage of the labor force that is out of work) of 4% or less is considered full employment. The unemployment rate varies from region to region and from state to state. For example, California's rate was higher than the national average in the early 1990s because of cutbacks in the aerospace industry and companies moving out of the state.

Economic growth is measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), the dollar value of the total output of goods and services in the US. A thriving economy may have a GDP growth rate of 4% per year; a stagnant economy may grow at less than 1% per year. In a stagnant economy, unemployment is high, productivity is low and jobs are hard to find. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. In the 1970s, the US experienced a strange combination of high unemployment and high inflation, which is known as stagflation.



Maintaining a Stable and Strong Economy

o   Monetary Policies – efforts to regulate the economy through manipulation of the supply of money and credit ... America’s most powerful institution in the area of monetary policy is the Federal Reserve Board.


o   Federal Reserve System: Consists of 12 Federal Reserve Banks. The Fed facilitates the exchange of cash, checks and credit, regulates member banks and uses monetary policies to fight inflation and deflation.

o   Discount Rate (or prime landing rate): The interest rate charged by the Federal Reserve when commercial banks borrow to expand their lending operations. An effective tool of monetary policy.

o   Reserve Requirement: The amount of liquid assets and ready cash the Federal Reserve requires banks to hold in order to meet depositors’ demands for their money. The ratio revolves above or below 20% of all deposits, with the rest being available for new loans.

o   Open-Market Operations: The process whereby the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve buys and sells government securities and the like to help finance government operations and to loosen or tighten the total amount of credit circulating in the economy.

o   Federal Funds Rate: The interest rate on loans between banks that the Federal Reserve Board influences by affecting the supply of money available.

o   Fiscal Policies: The use of taxing and spending to manipulate the economy.

o   Taxation

o   Progressive Taxation: hits the upper-income brackets

o   Regressive Taxation: hits the lower-income brackets

o   Redistribution Policy: An objective of the graduated income tax-to raise revenue in such a way as to reduce the disparities of wealth between the lowest and highest income brackets.

Projected Growth of Entitlement Programs

o   Government Spending

o   Budget Deficit: amount by which government spending exceeds government revenue in a fiscal year

o   Mandatory Spending: federal spending that is made up of uncontrollables, budget items that cannot be controlled through the regular budget process (for example, entitlements)

o   Uncontrollables: spending beyond the power of Congress to change because the terms are set by law or in contracts, such as interest on the debt

The federal government pursues policies that strive to create a healthy economy that benefits all Americans — not an easy task. An economic policy that benefits one segment of society may be damaging to another. Keeping inflation under control by raising interest rates makes it difficult for businesses to get capital to expand and hire additional workers. That may cause the unemployment rate to increase. Low interest rates, on the other hand, can lead to inflation as spending increases. Many workers may find their pay raises are meaningless because prices have increased.

Because of the complexity of economic policy, elected officials find that the only way they can come to an agreement on any aspect of it is to work out compromises. Even a president whose party controls both houses of Congress finds it difficult to get everything the executive branch wants. Tradeoffs — for example, accepting somewhat higher inflation to keep business expansion going — are essential to economic policy.



The Machinery of Economic Policy Making

A. Fragmented policy making; not under president's full control
B. Executive Branch

1. Council of Economic Advisers (CEA): members chosen are sympathetic to president's view of economics and are professional economists

a. forecasts economic trends and analyzes issues

b. prepares annual economic report that president sends to Congress

2. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

a. prepares estimates of amounts to be spent by federal government agencies and negotiates department budgets

b. ensures that agencies' legislative proposals are compatible with president's program

3. Secretary of the Treasury: reflects financial community's point of view

a. provides estimates of the government's revenues

b. represents the US with bankers and other nations

4. The Federal Reserve Board (The Fed)

a. members appointed by president and confirmed by Senate ... serve a nonrenewable fourteen-year term (removable for cause)

b. somewhat independent of both president and CongressParticipants in "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrate around Wall Street attempting to disrupt pedestrian flow for financial workers to get to work in New York, September 19, 2011.

c. regulates supply and price of money

C. Congress plays most important role in economic policy making.

1. approves all taxes and almost all expenditures

2. consents to wage and price controls

3. can alter Fed policy by threatening to reduce its powers

4. but also internally fragmented, with numerous committees setting fiscal policy

D. Interest Groups

1. usually majoritarian since economic health is good for all

2. sometimes interest group politics ... example, protectionism in 1980s




Economic Policy Involving Foreign Trade

The United States is part of a global economy. We buy goods from and sell goods to other countries. Foreign companies operate here and American firms have operations overseas. The US position on questions of trade, finance and monetary policy are important to institutions like the United Nations' World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank provides loans and technology assistance for economic development projects in member states and the IMF seeks to promote international monetary cooperation, currency stability and international trade.

In recent years, the principal international economic issue for the US has been trade. The Office of the US Trade Representative within the Executive Office of the President is responsible for developing and implementing the nation's trade policy. The US Trade Representative, who holds cabinet rank, is the principal advisor to the president on trade issues. The US has helped negotiate many different sorts of trade agreements over the years in order to ensure continued access to foreign goods and open markets abroad for goods manufactured in the US. The General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), for example, was created after World War II to provide a forum for negotiating international agreements based on free trade principles. It has been superseded by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Through these negotiations, the US has tried not only to keep foreign markets open but also to ensure that other countries respect patents on American products.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Congress ratified in 1993 and took effect in 1994, established a free-trade zone between the US, Canada and Mexico. The agreement triggered a major public debate in the US over its benefits and drawbacks. It contributed to an explosion of trade between the three countries and the integration of their economies, but was criticized in the US for contributing to job losses and outsourcing. Organized labor strongly opposed NAFTA, arguing that Mexico's extremely low wages would encourage manufacturers to move their plants to the other side of the border. There were also concerns about the effectiveness of Mexican environmental control and occupational safety laws. H. Ross Perot made opposition to NAFTA the cornerstone of his independent run for the White House in 1992, as did Pat Buchanan in later presidential campaigns.

USMCA logoPresident Trump called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever made” and renegotiated it as the USMCA. The Obama administration had sought to address the issues with NAFTA in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal with eleven other countries including Canada and Mexico. The TPP was deeply unpopular and President Trump withdrew the US from the TPP in one of his first acts in office. In late 2019, the Trump administration won support from congressional Democrats for the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) after agreeing to incorporate stronger labor enforcement. In early 2020, Congress approved the USMCA with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers, and the deal entered into force on July 1. Some critics have complained that the new agreement amounts to government-managed trade. However, the USMCA is very similar to NAFTA, carrying over many of the same provisions and making only modest, mostly cosmetic changes and is expected to make only a minor economic impact. Labor has criticized the labor standards in the USMCA as unenforceable and toothless. It is feared that a measure that expands the patent length for biological substances to 10 years, thus limiting access for new generic drugs to enter the market, will make it harder to bring down drug prices. It is also feared that the data and IP provisions of the USMCA run the risk of turning Canadian firms into "data cows" of foreign big data.

Another regional example is the Dominican Republic-Central America-US Free Trade Agreement (2005) or CAFTA-DR. Its goal is to eliminate tariffs and promote market access for the participants, which include Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the US.



Why do nations pursue protectionism?

o   desire to promote fledgling industries (also see political cronyism)

o   discourage imports

o   ban external investments

o   military strategy

o   food, steel, arms

o   economic strategy

o   desire for local high tech

o   environmental/health concerns

o   gasoline standards

o   bovine growth hormone

o   labor regulations

o   child labor

o   unions



How do nations pursue protectionism?

o   import taxes, tariffs: raise price of imports

o   quotas: create shortage of imports

o   subsidies: lower price of exports/domestic goods

o   import regulations: sometimes under guise of health/labor/environmental concerns



What are the negative results of protectionism?

o   higher taxes

o   Import taxes lead to high prices.

o   Industry subsidies lead to higher prices.

o   Import restrictions lead to higher prices.

o   Governments can introduce consumer subsidies but that leads to deficit spending and debt.

o   impact on less developed countries

o   3rd world can’t export their goods, which leads to a lack of capital.

o   Developing countries with no external investment can’t build industries.

o   Borrowing money to develop industries leads to debt and may lead to less social spending.

o   No middle class emerges in developing world.

o   technological innovations

o   Motive to innovate is eliminated.



So what is the solution?

o   World Trade Organization (WTO): lower tariffs and establish a court to mediate trade disputes

o   North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): free trade and open borders

o   World Bank/IMF: loans to mitigate and restructure national debt (austerity measures)



What Are the Problems with Those Solutions?NAFTA LOGO

o   NAFTA/USMCA and the WTO

o   loss of jobs in protected industries

o   environmental concerns

o   child labor

o   working conditions

o   “A rush to the bottom”

o   World Bank/IMF

o   Austerity measures can destabilize a country and make the poor even more miserable.












Foreign Policy

Actions taken by the United States to promote its national interests, security and well-being in the world come under the heading of foreign policy. These actions may include measures that support a competitive economy, provide for a strong defense of the nation's borders and encourage the ideas of peace, freedom and democracy at home and abroad. Foreign policy may contain inherent contradictions. For example, an aggressive foreign policy with a country whose activities have been perceived as threatening to US security could result in a confrontation, which might undermine freedom and democracy at home. Foreign policy is never static; it must respond to and initiate actions as circumstances change.



Philosophies of Foreign Policy

  1. Realism (realpolitik) policy should be guided by self interest (as opposed to ethics and values) and as such will be unilateral. Military force is viewed as necessary. Diplomatic institutions (like the UN) are viewed as not particularly critical.

  2. Idealism (Wilsonianism or Liberalism) policy should be guided by values (women's rights, capitalism, human rights, democracy, etc). Diplomatic institutions should be the route for resolving disputes. Solutions should be sought multilaterally (with other countries).

  3. Neo-Conservatism policy should be guided by values but diplomatic institutions cannot be entrusted to always do so. Sometimes the military has to do the job. Because Europe has largely abandoned its leadership role, the US is the only country that can be trusted to spread Western values.

US sentiment for neutrality grew prior to WWII.


What Are the Values in American Foreign Policy?

o   Legacies of the Traditional System


Unilateralism: A foreign policy that avoids international alliances, entanglements, and permanent commitments in favor of independence, neutrality and freedom of action

o   The Great Leap to World Power

Multilateralism: A foreign policy that encourages the involvement of several nation-states in coordinated action, usually in relation to a common adversary, with terms and conditions usually specified in a multi-country treaty (NATO).

Containment: The use of political, economic and military power to prevent the spread of communism to developing or unstable countries.

Deterrence: The development and maintenance of military strength for the purpose of discouraging attack.


In his farewell address, George Washington warned the US to steer clear of foreign entanglements. From the conclusion of the War of 1812 to the Spanish-American War (1898), this advice was largely followed. American foreign policy was isolationist ... that is, US leaders saw little reason to get involved in world affairs, particularly outside the Western Hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine (1823) stated that the US would not interfere in European affairs and it would oppose any European attempt to colonize the Americas. The second part of the doctrine was effectively enforced because it reflected British desires as well. American energies were applied to settling the continent under the banner of Manifest Destiny.

The Spanish-American War marked the emergence of the US as a world power. As a result, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines became American territories. The Hawaiian Islands were annexed separately. A few years later, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened in Central and South America, including supporting the independence of Panama from Columbia in 1903, which led to construction of the Panama Canal. With the European powers carving out spheres of influence for themselves in China, the US called for an Open Door Policy that would allow all nations equal trading access.

The US entered World War I in April 1917, after remaining neutral for three years. President Woodrow Wilson, who hoped his Fourteen Points (1918) would become the basis for the postwar settlement, played an active role in the Paris Peace Conference. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which provided for the creation of the League of Nations. The US returned to isolationism during the interwar period and never joined the League. In response to the growing threat from Nazi Germany, CongressYalta Conference in February 1945 with (from left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin passed a series of neutrality acts (1935-1937) that were intended to keep the US out of a European conflict. It was only after the outbreak of World War II (September 1939) that President Franklin Roosevelt was able to shift American foreign policy to aid the Allies.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), the US formally joined the Grand Alliance that included Great Britain, free France, the Soviet Union and China. During the war, the Allied leaders met on several occasions to plan military strategy and to discuss the structure of the postwar world. The important wartime conferences were Casablanca (January 1943), Teheran (November 1943), Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (July-August 1945). Although the status of Eastern Europe was one of the main topics at Yalta and Potsdam, the fate of these countries was not determined by diplomacy but by the facts on the ground. At the end of the war, Soviet troops were in control of most of Eastern Europe behind what Winston Churchill would later call the Iron Curtain.

The American response to the expansion of communism and the influence of the Soviet Union was Containment Policy. The term was coined by State Department staffer George Kennan and was based on the premise that the US must apply counterforce to any aggressive moves by the Soviet Union. This policy was reflected in the creation of a network of political and military alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Both the Truman Doctrine (1947), which committed the US to protect "free peoples" in Europe from attack, and the Korean War (1950-1953) are examples of containment in practice. American policy also recognized the importance of economic assistance to prevent communism from gaining support. Under the Marshall Plan, named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the US pumped billions of dollars into Western Europe to help with reconstruction after World War II. Foreign aid, direct financial aid to countries around the world for both economic and military development, became a key element of American diplomacy.

US foreign policy was also guided by the Domino Theory, the thought that if one country in a region came under communist control, other nations in the area would soon follow. It was the reason the US became involved in Vietnam, which ultimately cost 58,000 American lives, many billions of dollars and a bitterly divided country.

The Cold War was punctuated by periods of thaw in US-Soviet relations. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson met with the leaders of the Soviet Union in what was known as summit diplomacy. The 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was negotiated in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962), was one of the positive results of these meetings.

Richard Nixon (right) meets with Mao Zedong in 1972.American foreign policy took a new direction during the 1970s. Under President Richard Nixon, détente, an easing of tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, led to increased trade and cultural exchanges and, most important, to an agreement to limit nuclear weapons — the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). In the same year, Nixon began the process of normalizing relations with the People's Republic of China.

Superpower rivalry continued for a time, however. The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan resulted in an American-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. President Reagan actively supported anti-communist, anti-left-wing forces in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, which he considered client states of the Soviet Union (the "evil empire"). He increased American defense spending significantly during his first term. The Soviet Union simply could not match these expenditures. Faced with a serious economic crisis, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev instituted new policies called glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring) that eased tensions with the US. By the early 1990s, the Cold War had effectively come to an end. The Soviet Union ceased to exist with the independence of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and the Central Asian republics.

The collapse of the Soviet Union did not mean an end to conflict around the world. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 prompted the US to put together an international coalition under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) that culminated in the brief Persian Gulf War in 1991. Both the UN and NATO were involved in seeking a resolution to the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. While the US arranged a settlement in the region known as the Dayton Accords (1995), it did not prevent a new outbreak of fighting between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. NATO aircraft bombed targets in Serbia, including the capital Belgrade, in response. This was the first time that NATO forces conducted combat operations in Europe.

For almost half a century, the main objective of American foreign policy was to counter the threat from the Soviet Union. While national security questions and relations with Russia remain high on the foreign-policy agenda, new questions have come to the fore. Increasing global interdependence in economic development, communications and the environment is blurring the distinction between domestic and foreign policy.WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION SIGN

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pace of nuclear disarmament quickened but maintaining momentum and confidence in arms control between the US and Russia has proved challenging. The US has worked with the newly independent countries of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to dismantle the nuclear arsenals on their territory. Nuclear proliferation and the danger of terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — nuclear, biological and chemical weapons — remain major foreign policy concerns. US success in persuading Libya and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs has been uneven. The belief that Iraq had a stockpile of biological and chemicals weapons and was developing a nuclear arsenal was a key justification for the 2003 invasion. The failure to find any WMDs undermined support for the war. Iran continues to pursue the development of nuclear power, despite United Nations sanctions.

US foreign policy was dramatically affected by the events of September 11. The attacks marked the beginning of the global war on terrorism, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and soon the conflict with Iraq. The latter is an example of a new defense strategy known as preemption. The US has the right to use military force to prevent an attack, not just in response to an attack.

Throughout the Cold War, the US relied on NATO to check Soviet expansion in Europe. With that danger removed, the military alliance expanded both its membership and the scope of its operations. A number of countries from behind what was once the Iron Curtain and from the former Soviet Union became NATO members, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Eventually, NATO troops comprised the majority of the force fighting the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But conflict with Russia was not over. The status of Crimea, a peninsular region of Ukraine on the northern coast of and almost entirely surrounded by the Black Sea, had been a source of conflict between Russia and Ukraine but the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership seemingly settled the issue, establishing Crimea as a part of Ukraine. Then, in 2014, Ukrainian popular protests toppled their pro-Russian president and Russia covertly invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. The move was denounced by the international community and Russia was designated the “occupying power” in Crimea but Crimea was now de facto a part of Russia. Although conflict in Crimea between Ukrainian and Russian guerilla forces remained high, the annexation of Crimea - as well as the West’s response to it - became a point of pride in Russia, Putin’s domestic popularity soared, and international condemnation only served to stoke Russian nationalism.

Between October and November 2021, Russia began a massive buildup of troops and military equipment along its border with Ukraine. While Western leaders consulted with both Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to stave off a Russian invasion that appeared inevitable, Putin issued demands that included de facto veto power over NATO expansion and the containment of NATO forces to countries that had been members prior to 1997. This would, in effect, remove the NATO security umbrella from eastern and southern Europe as well as the Baltic states. These proposals were flatly rejected.

Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukrainian territory as “peacekeepers,” and Russian military activity - ongoing since 2014 but consistently disavowed by the Kremlin - at last became overt. Millions of Ukrainians fled the fighting, representing Europe’s largest refugee crisis since WWII. The overwhelming majority found safety in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Putin’s plan had been to seize Kyiv in a matter of days and to install a pro-Moscow government but the Russian advance stalled in the face of a determined Ukrainian defense. Russia found itself relying on attrition warfare (the process of wearing down an opponent so as to force their physical collapse through continuous losses in personnel, equipment and supplies or to wear them down to such an extent that their will to fight collapses) but Ukraine has held ground and launched a counter-offensive to retake territory from Russia's occupying forces. Western leaders, pledging solidarity with Ukraine, responded by levying a raft of sanctions against Russian financial institutions and providing Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid.

At US urging, Russia became the most heavily sanctioned country in history. It was isolated from the international banking system. The EU, the US, the UK and Canada had all closed their airspace to Russian traffic. Ukraine, conversely, was embraced by the West as a developing democracy defending itself against the depredations of an autocratic neighbor. Ukraine was granted candidate status in the EU. NATO, thought of by some as irrelevant in the 21st century, found a renewed purpose and sense of solidarity in the wake of the Russian invasion. Finland and Sweden, two countries with a long history of neutrality, each signaled their intention to join the alliance shortly after the war began. Instead of shattering NATO’s will, Putin had, in effect, turned the Baltic Sea into a NATO region.

Decisions made about international economic policy have a direct domestic impact. Economic policy is also used as a tool in foreign policy. American companies are prohibited from doing business with countries that are identified as state sponsors of terrorism. After the first Persian Gulf War, the US, working through the UN, tried to make sure that Iraq could not sell its oil on the world market to rebuild its military strength. The so-called "oil for food" program was marred by corruption and hurt the Iraqi people more than the regime. The UN also imposed economic sanctions on Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

The environment is a comparatively new issue in foreign policy. The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica and evidence of global warming demonstrate that environmental change has a global impact and requires international action. Through international agreements, progress has been made in reducing the production of chemicals that destroy ozone. Global warming, which many scientists believe has already begun and is traceable to the burning of fossil fuels, is a more difficult problem. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework on Climate Change, better known simply as the Kyoto Protocol, mandated significant reductions in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, for example) for developed countries by 2012. Developing countries, including China and India with their rapidly growing economies, were not required to meet specific emission targets. In Doha, Qatar, in 2012, delegates agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 192 countries to date (2021) ... the US is a notable exception. The Senate refused to consider the protocol in 1997 because of the exemptions given to developing countries and President Bush stated in 2001 that he would not submit it for ratification. Failure to support the treaty was seen as an example of unilateralism in American foreign policy.

After a series of conferences mired in disagreements, delegates in Paris, in 2015, signed a global but nonbinding agreement to limit the increase of the world’s average temperature to no more than 2 °C (3.6 °F) above preindustrial levels while at the same time striving to keep this increase to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above preindustrial levels. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed by all 196 signatories of the UNFCCC, effectively replaced the Kyoto Protocol. It also mandated a progress review every five years and the development of a fund containing $100 billion by 2020 – to be replenished annually - to help developing countries adopt non-greenhouse-gas-producing technologies.

In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement, a step that became official in November 2020. However, in January 2021, newly-elected President Joe Biden committed the US to the Paris Climate Agreement again.

Climate Change & Environment Supreme Court Cases

Laws and Executive Orders - EPA


Who Makes and Shapes Foreign Policy?


o   The President

o   commander in chiefThe Defense Department

o   negotiate treaties

o   select, nominate and receive ambassadors

o   the bureaucracy

o   CIA, NSA, JCOS (Joint Chiefs), NSC (National Security Counsel), DHS (Department of Homeland Security)

o   Congress

o   declare war

o   ratify treaties

o   regulate foreign commerce (tariffs)

o   Interest Groups

o   power to the people

o   single-issue economic groups

o   ethnic / country-of-origin groups

o   The Media

o   security vs. freedom of the press

o   imbedded journalism

o   the television age

o   Other Countries

o   examples: France in the late 18th century, Russia in the 20th century

Under the Constitution, both the president and Congress have a role in foreign policy. Each has been given specific powers and has assumed additional authority either through precedent or by relying on other constitutional responsibilities. Since the Vietnam War, Congress has tried to exert more influence and control over foreign policy.

The president negotiates treaties, appoints ambassadors to represent the US overseas and is commander in chief of the armed forces. Throughout US history, presidents have used their power as head of the military to involve the nation in numerous conflicts abroad without a formal declaration of war by Congress and they have found other ways to get around constitutionally imposed limitations on their ability to set the direction of American foreign policy. Even though they are effective only during the term of the president who made them, executive agreements negotiated with another head of state do not require Senate approval. Presidents also have access to discretionary funds that can be (and have been) used to finance both military and diplomatic initiatives. Presidents routinely rely on special envoys, who do not require Senate confirmation, to carry out negotiations with other countries.

The constitutional function of Congress is essentially to act as a check on presidential power. Only Congress can declare war and the Senate must approve all treaties and confirm the president's nominees for ambassadorial and cabinet positions. Congress has additional authority through its appropriation and oversight functions. As must all government programs, the operations of foreign policy must be funded. Congress can cut or increase foreign aid or the budget for a defense project. It can set restrictions on the length of time American troops are deployed during an international crisis by refusing to pay for them beyond a certain date. The Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence Committee of both the House and the Senate have investigated the Iran-Contra affair as well as the operations of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Congress has used its power to make laws that specifically limit the freedom of action of the president in foreign policy. The Neutrality Acts (1935–1937) are an early example. The 1973 War Powers Act, which was a direct response to the Vietnam War, requires that Congress be consulted whenever the president is ready to commit American troops. It puts a 60-day limit on their deployment (with an additional month for withdrawal) without further congressional approval. Vetoed by President Nixon and generally opposed by his successors, the act's effectiveness has been questioned. Still, President George H. W. Bush sought the support of Congress before the Persian Gulf War, as did President Bill Clinton to send troops to Somalia and Bosnia. Congress also authorized the use of force in Iraq in the fall of 2002.

Foreign policy is formulated and implemented within the executive branch. The principal policy institutions are the departments of State and Defense, the National Security Council (NSC) and the CIA. The Department of State is most directly responsible for the conduct of foreign policy. The secretary of state is, in theory at least, the nation's chief foreign policy official. That role can be assumed by other officials in the administration. President Nixon relied much more heavily on Henry Kissinger when he served as Nixon's national security advisor than on Secretary of State William Rogers. The day-to-day diplomacy of the US is carried out by the Foreign Service, which staffs American embassies and consulates around the world. Although many ambassadors are appointed for their political contributions rather than their knowledge of foreign affairs, the career Foreign Service officers are an invaluable source of information for policymakers.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the military from foreign policy. The Defense Department was created in 1949 through a consolidation of the War Department and the Department of the Navy (which included the Marine Corps), both of which were cabinet-level departments, and the US Air Force. The Secretary of Defense can have tremendous influence on foreign policy, as did Robert McNamara, who served in the post under President John Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are the heads of the four branches of the armed services and a chairperson, provide advice to the president on military planning and strategy.

The National Security Council (NSC) is made up of the president and vice president, the secretaries of defense and state, the director of the CIA, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the leadership council for the armed services) and about a dozen other government officials. It is headed by the national security advisor. The council is responsible for advising the president on foreign policy. The role of the NSC varies from administration to administration. Nixon, who was extremely knowledgeable about foreign affairs, relied on the NSC a great deal. Indeed, his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, was intimately involved in opening relations with the People's Republic of China and he represented the US in peace negotiations with North Vietnam. Condoleezza Rice also played an important role in this position during George W. Bush's first term. She was CIA LOGOappointed secretary of state in 2005.

Created at the end of World War II, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects, analyzes, evaluates and disseminates information (intelligence) relating to the national security of the US. Although the CIA uses a variety of means to gather information, most of it comes from simply reading both official and mass-market publications from around the world. The most controversial of the agency's activities are its covert operations, which have involved assassination, assisting in the overthrow of a government and tampering with elections.

The CIA is not the country's only intelligence gathering arm. In addition, there is the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (part of the Department of Defense), the intelligence branches within each of the armed services and intelligence units within other executive departments such as State, Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security. The intelligence agencies came in for significant criticism for their failure to fully understand the terrorist threat to the US in the wake of September 11. The 9/11 Commission emphasized the need to restructure intelligence activities. This was accomplished to a degree with the appoint of a National Intelligence Director to head the intelligence community. The director is the main advisor to both the president and the NSC on intelligence as it impacts national security.


What are the Instruments of Modern American Foreign Policy?


o   Diplomacy

o   president

o   historical distrust of diplomacy

o   military option is the “club behind the door,” to be used when diplomacy fails ... “speak softly and carry a big stick”

o   The United Nations

o   organization of nations founded on 1945 to serve as a channel for negotiation and a means of settling international disputes peaceably

o   US provides 26% of UN funding

o   Economic Aid

o   Marshall Plan

o   Who profits from foreign aid? Elites or common people?

o   Is foreign aid tied closely enough to diplomacy?

o   Agriculture, State and Defense Departments

o   Collective Security

o   work together with other nations to be safe

o   multilateralism / bilateralism / unilateralism

o   producer of security vs. consumer of security

o   Military Deterrence

o   MAD: mutually assured destruction

o   Is deterrence applicable in our current world?



Copyright © 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   07/03/2024 2100

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