Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

The Politics of Slow Moving Crises

University of Pennsylvania

Political Science

Spring 2021

Prof. Michael Jones-Correa

Undergraduate lecture

“Slow-moving policy crises” like climate change, population growth/change (aging, immigration, pensions), water availability involve policy areas with a seemingly high probability of negative consequences, where the need for policy coordination seems clear but the pressures for coordination are often somewhat removed, since the consequences of policy action or inaction may be felt only years down the road.

The questions underlying these cases are: how does a democratic political system, which operates on the short time horizon of elections, complicate policy decisions regarding social and natural processes with much longer time horizons (say decades rather than years), and for which the policy consequences may be quite serious, not to say catastrophic, but far removed from the political timeframe. How do politicians and policy makers evaluate the appropriate response to the problems posed by these processes? If the usual policy making framework is inadequate to responding to these kinds of processes and the problems they pose, then how can the institutions and processes of policy-making be amended to allow for improvement? What lessons can be drawn from other fields (psychology, economics, political science, sociology, etc.) and other decision-making arenas?

On one level the goal of this course is to introduce students to key concepts of rational choice, externalities, risk assessment, time horizons, event probabilities, path dependency and unintended consequences through readings in political science, economics and sociology; and on another level to give students the tools to evaluate failures (and successes) of policy responses in areas in which policy consequences are often far removed—temporally and otherwise—from those making decisions.