Category Archives: Public Policy

Innovating Democracy

What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.

Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.

The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.

Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.

Watch — Innovating Democracy: Key Issues for the 2020 Election and Beyond

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The Fight to End Bay Area Poverty

Daniel Lurie has been on a mission to make his community stronger since he was a child. Born and raised in San Francisco, Lurie’s family believed it was their responsibility to be part of a better Bay Area. Today, Lurie is doing just that through his non-profit Tipping Point Community. Lurie developed the concept while he was a student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He recently returned to campus to discuss how Tipping Point is rethinking philanthropy.

Tipping Point provides funding for non-profits around the Bay Area working on four key issues: housing, employment, family wellness, and education. But, rather than just giving money and walking way, Tipping Point works with groups to measure their success, and hold them accountable. Lurie says Tipping Point has ended relationships with 20% of their partners over the years, a testament to their high standards.

Another major issue Tipping Point is addressing is homelessness. Right now, the group is working on a three-pronged approach – creating more housing, prevention, and optimizing the public sector. For housing, they’re attempting to construct a 146-unit building in San Francisco in under three years for less than $400,000 per unit. Lurie hopes this project will prove building at that speed and price is possible, and serve as a model for future development.

For prevention, Tipping Point is working with UCSF to increase the number of beds so people with mental health problems can be set up with case managers instead of being released back onto the streets. They’re also running a pilot program in a jail to arrange housing for people when they are released. And, Tipping Point is holding regular meetings with local officials and business leaders to figure out how they can work together to address the problem.

Watch — Tipping Point and the Fight to End Bay Area Poverty with Daniel Lurie

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Is it Time to Rethink the Idea of the Amoral Economic Man?

There is a widely held belief that when designing public policy or legal systems, it makes the most sense to assume that all citizens are entirely self-interested and amoral. It’s a theory known as “homo economicus” or “economic man.” But, economist Samuel Bowles argues against that belief in his book The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives are no Substitute for Good Citizens. Bowles laid out the case for his argument during a recent talk at UC Berkeley.

Bowles says there are two key reasons to move away from the economic man idea. First, he says polices that follow the paradigm can be self-fulling – making the assumption of universal amorality truer than it might otherwise be under different policies. Second, he argues that fines and rewards often do not work as intended.

The problem Bowles argues, is that incentives can “crowd out” otherwise altruistic motives people might have for any given action. He cites the classic example of a daycare that imposed a small fee for parents who showed up late. The result? Many more late parents. The thinking goes that the fee turned being late into a commodity rather than an inconsiderate action. Thus, the incentive backfired, and ended up having the opposite of its intended effect.

However, Bowles says incentives themselves are not to blame. He argues they can be designed in a such a way to encourage good civic behavior, while avoiding possible pitfalls. For example, when Ireland wanted to get rid of plastic bags, lawmakers imposed a small tax. But, they paired the tax with a huge media campaign about not trashing the Emerald Isle. Appealing to citizens better nature made the difference, and most shoppers stopped using plastic bags within weeks.

Watch — The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives are No Substitute for Good Citizens

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Why School Integration Works

They are some of the most ambitious education programs of the 20th century – school desegregation, school finance reform, and Head Start. Today, many view these initiatives as failures, but professor Rucker C. Johnson of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy disagrees. He and a team of researchers combed through data from over four decades to figure out the true impact of these programs. Their findings are detailed alongside compelling stories of real people in Johnson’s new book, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works. Recently, Johnson sat down with Goldman School Dean Henry E. Brady to discuss the book and his research.

Johnson and his colleagues used big data and new techniques to look at the wide-ranging impacts of school desegregation. They tracked everything from high school graduation rates, to employment, wages and health. Thanks to the uneven implementation of desegregation, Johnson was able to compare children who grew up in similar environments, but experienced different levels of desegregation. He found a big part of the positive impact came from how desegregation affected access to class resources, after school programs, quality teachers, and smaller class sizes. And, the longer a student spent in desegregated schools, the greater the impact. In fact, the achievement gap between white and black students closed faster following desegregation than at any other time in American history.

Unfortunately, the United States has moved away from integration. Today, many schools and classrooms are heavily divided along racial lines. Opponents of desegregation appear to have won. But, Johnson says there is still hope. He lays out the case for making integration a priority once again, using data to prove its effectiveness. He also delves into school finance reform and Head Start, showing how sustained investment in education is the surest way to change children’s lives for the better.

Watch The Success of Integrating Schools with Rucker Johnson — In the Living Room with Henry E. Brady

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Criminal Justice and the Latinx Community

The criminal justice system’s impact on Latina and Latino people in Southern California and across the nation was the focus of the annual UCLA Law Review symposium at the UCLA School of Law. Featuring leading scholars and practitioners who work to uncover and combat the ways in which bias affects Latinx communities’ interactions with law enforcement, panelists addressed incarceration, policing, community organizing and criminal adjudication, plus related issues involving ethics and capital punishment.

UCLA Law professor emeritus Gerald López delivered the event’s keynote address. He captivated the crowd with reflections on his childhood in East Los Angeles in the 1950s, where he watched the criminal justice system target Latinx people — activity that, he noted, continues to this day.

“It left impressions on me that shape everything I do,” he said while encouraging budding attorneys and activists to continue his lifelong effort to respond to those challenges and “change the world.”

Browse more programs in Latinx Communities, Race, and the Criminal Justice System

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