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Policy will reduce poverty

October 30, 2015 0 Comment

Assignment Requirements


You are to write a position paper making the case for some policy that you believe will reduce poverty.

While you may certainly draw on evidence from outside the United States, the policy should be

applicable to the United States. You should

  1. Describe the groups/causes of poverty that the policy is intended to address.
  2. Explain why economic theory suggests that the policy should be desirable.
  3. Address any problems suggested by theory.
  4. Discuss relevant research that shows whether the policy is effective.

Because you need to use research to support your policy, you will probably want to do a variation

on an existing policy. For example, you might want to modify Head Start or have a school supper

program in addition to the school breakfast and lunch programs. Simply expanding an existing

program generally does not make for a first-rate paper, but you can use information about the

existing programs to support your conclusion that the new or modified program would work. If

you come up with a completely new program that has never been tried, it is unlikely that you will

be able to make a compelling case for adopting it. For the same reasons, it is generally very hard

to write a good paper arguing that abolishing some poverty program will reduce poverty:

abolishing all taxes might create incentives for job creation, work, etc., but it is usually hard to

make a really strong argument that global economic changes of that sort will reduce poverty.

Similarly, do not try to develop a program that will eliminate all poverty. If, for example, your

issue is neighborhood poverty, you do not have to address poverty programs aimed at the elderly

outside areas of concentrated poverty, and a narrowly targeted policy, such as one aimed at

children in public housing, is perfectly acceptable.

The paper should be no more than 2500 words (or about eight pages in 12 point proportional font

double-spaced type) including footnotes and/or endnotes. Any standard style of referencing is

acceptable. References do not count in the word limit.

There is no one set format that the paper must follow. How much you will spend on each section

will depend on the topic you choose. For example, subsidizing private school education probably

requires discussion of economic theory of subsidies, but a publicly-provided after-school tutoring

program, probably does not require more than a paragraph on enhancing human capital. Some

proposals will have more supportive evidence than others, but do not ignore relevant but distinct

programs. If you want to create urban gardens in public housing projects and encourage teenagers

to participate in growing their own food, you will certainly want to look at literature on the

effectiveness of community involvement programs.

The following outline may nevertheless be helpful:

  1. Describe the nature of the poverty problem you are addressing including relevant data on its

prevalence (1 page). Many people “warm-up” by, for example, describing how poverty is

measured. This is a waste of time. Keep your introduction focused. Avoid gratuitous and

irrelevant statements: “Every year, through no fault of their own, millions of children are born into

poverty.” I doubt that many people think that children are born into poverty by choice or as a

punishment for something they did in a previous life. If they do, adding the phrase “through no

fault of their own” will not change their opinion. Similarly “Poverty can never be abolished” may

or may not be a correct statement, but it is surely not relevant to a paper that seeks to reduce one

aspect of poverty.

  1. Discuss the history of policies designed to alleviate the problem including evidence of whether

or not they have worked (1-2 pages). Again, avoid “warming-up.” Stay focused. Make sure that

your review is clearly related to the proposal. If your goal is to improve neonatal nutrition, it is

unlikely that an extensive discussion of TANF is appropriate. Your review should focus on

programs that bear some resemblance to yours or that had a similar focus. If a study is important

to your analysis and we have not discussed it in class, be sure to describe it sufficiently so that it is

clear whether you understand the basis for the causal inference. “Smith showed that students who

studied nuclear physics in first grade were more likely to major in science in college,” is much

less convincing than either ““Smith showed that students who studied nuclear physics in first

grade were more likely to major in science in college, but there are good reasons to be concerned

that students who studied nuclear physics that early were unusually talented in science so that the

causality probably runs from science aptitude to first grade physics and college science” or “Smith

showed that several schools introduced physics in first grade but most did not. After they changed

their policy, the schools that adopted physics in first grade increased the number of graduates

going on to major in science in college while the other schools showed no change.”

  1. Your proposal. Why theory suggests it should work. Additional evidence that you can bring to

bear on the topic. In presenting the case for this policy, you should consider costs as well as

benefits. Use economic analysis and data to support your arguments (4 pages).

  1. Conclusion (1 page)
  2. References

If you are modifying an existing program, then the second section will probably be longer and the

third section shorter since you will want to spend time in the second section clarifying the

weaknesses in the existing program that your modifications are intended to address. The third

section will probably be shorter. Do not forget to address obvious weaknesses in your proposal.

Will it create work disincentives or other inefficiencies?

All thoughts, words, and ideas that are not your own must be referenced appropriately. You may

cite references from popular magazines and newspapers and the textbook, but you should not rely

solely on these sources. P&D frequently cites the original research papers that form the basis for

my conclusions. I am not particularly interested in being told what I have said (although it is

occasionally amusing). You will want to look at the original papers. A good paper will go beyond

what is available in the assigned readings and show that you have learned how to analyze policy

related to poverty in-depth. While your interest in the policy may be based on opinion or emotion,

your paper will be evaluated on the basis of the effectiveness of your rational argument(s).

My most common comments on papers are:

Causality? (You should think about and discuss whether “Studies show that children who eat

breakfast do better in school.” shows that getting kids to eat breakfast will improve school

performance or whether the studies merely show that kids from the sorts of households that

ensure that they eat breakfast have other advantages that enhance school performance. The

studies may or may not address causality.)

Evidence? (What is your evidence for your statement “Less educated mothers are less effective

parents.” And, of course, is your evidence convincing about causality.)

Cite? (This is a variant on “Evidence?” but suggests that you claim that evidence exists but have

not referred me to the source of that evidence.) “Research has shown” is almost always an

indication that you did not put enough effort and/or thought into the paper. By this point in the

course, you should be aware of the strengths and limits of the research. “A study by … compares

outcomes for As and Bs and shows that As outperform Bs. Since assignment to A or B is random,

this is convincing evidence that being an A causes better outcomes.”

A couple of more points:

Citations to long pieces should have page numbers. If the whole paper is about a particular

experiment, it will make sense to cite the entire paper. But x% of people believe … (Encyclopedia

Britannica, 10 edition) is not an adequate citation. It is fine to cite P&D, but I generally know th

the material in P&D. It should not be your only source.

The paper must be typed, double-spaced using a font size of 12 or larger.


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