For this week’s blog post, I’ll be reflecting on a few interesting readings which were assigned in my MPP courses this past year. Before starting my program, I actually missed having assigned readings and the opportunity to discuss them in a class setting. Heller has more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the rigor and relevance of assigned readings.
MPP students typically read this book over the summer and discuss it with their cohort during orientation. While I had been familiar with some of Alexander’s findings and arguments, I had never read the complete book until last summer (I regret not doing so sooner). It is truly a remarkable, troubling, and eye-opening book. The book documents how mass incarceration functions as the newest form of racist, structural oppression in a long history of oppressive systems in the United States. Alexander is particularly adept at tracing the judicial history that has codified our racist policing and carceral systems and insulated them from legal challenges. I think The New Jim Crow is essential reading (for policy students and for pretty much anyone), particularly in our current moment.
Fall and spring semester: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Gøsta Esping-Andersen
I know – it probably sounds a bit dry! However, reading selections from this book in two courses at Heller really influenced my thinking about history and comparative political economy. If you’ve heard Bernie Sanders talk about the virtues of Danish health care and social welfare, but wondered what historical factors actually influenced the differences between US and European social policy, this book provides an excellent introduction. It served as excellent fodder for classroom debates about how fixed and permanent the differences between the three welfare state models identified by Esping-Andersen actually are, and about what lessons we might draw from non-US contexts about ways to improve our own system.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am very interested in labor history and policy, and thoroughly enjoyed the elective which I took on this subject in Fall 2019. This book provided an excellent and very readable historical overview of several key periods in US labor history, from early victories by garment workers’ unions in NYC, to the conflicts between public-sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, to cutting edge organizing efforts led by gig economy workers. Greenhouse is a former NY Times labor reporter, and his style is both informative and fun to read. Prof. Bob Kuttner invited Greenhouse to visit our class and discuss labor history past and present. This was a great opportunity to hear stories about labor organizing and to learn a bit more about the process of reporting on unions worker-led organizations.
I’ve really appreciated the balance of different types of assigned readings at Heller, which has included accessible non-fiction works, journalistic and historical accounts, political and sociological theory, and policy and research reports. I hope these three examples provide some insight into the value of the readings assigned in the MPP curriculum. I know I’m looking forward to this coming year’s assignments as well!