Washington Center

Washington Ethics: Crisis, Reform and Reaction

UC Berkeley
Semester Elective
Seminar 317

 This course explores the history, theory and practice of public attempts to reform electoral and political processes at the national level.  Our inquiry will multidisciplinary in nature, drawing from several disciplines including political science, history, philosophy, sociology and psychology. Several propositions will be analyzed.  First, while government reforms are often initiated in “crisis” periods, actual reforms are usually evaluated in non-crisis times. Reform assessments, therefore, often fail to fully account for the original motivations of reformers.  Second, major reforms are usually followed by serious efforts to evade the original intent of the reforms. This suggests there may be a “life cycle” of reform that includes short-term compliance and long-term evasion.  Finally, the question of what is good reform leads directly to the question of what is good government, including its legitimate functions and processes. This suggests that political reforms should be evaluated in terms of political ideals, current problems, and theories about how reform will provide a remedy.  Actual practice, however, often falls short of this standard because people disagree over how government should work in the first place.  Also, political imperatives motivate both reformers and those potentially subject to the proposed changes. Thus, a more complete reform assessment must acknowledge that “improvements” are initiated and evaluated in the name of various political values that are frequently at odds. Several contemporary and historic case studies including campaign finance, lobbying practices, conflict-of-interest, mediated corruption, information hoarding, nepotism and the ‘revolving door’ will help students examine the above propositions. We will also delve into the ethical issues surrounding the functions of representation, lawmaking, and policy implementation, with particular emphasis on Congress, the White House, executive bureaucracy, interest groups, and media. 

Syllabus: sylClarkEthics204.pdf

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