Charter, Teacher, Doctor, Match: Economics and Social Policy in the 21st Century

Zachary Griffen, University of California, Los Angeles

Since the economics of health and education were pioneered in the mid-twentieth century, there have been several transformations in the means through which economists attempt to intervene in U.S. social policy. In the 1960s, economists were primarily interested in quantifying social institutions, and thereby developing representations of them as economic entities. Then in the 1970s and 80s, concern shifted to cost management: how could the tools of economics be used to make social institutions more efficient and cost effective? Finally, in the last several decades, economists have focused on social policy as an engineering problem. This paper examines how economists have intervened in social institutions using algorithmic technologies that enable new markets to be designed and professionals to be evaluated quantitatively. Drawing on examples including Value Added Models for teacher evaluation, the National Resident Matching Program, Value-Based Payment in healthcare, and school choice market design, it explores how economic expertise is being mobilized to affect social policy in the 21st century. The paper argues that while many economists today are relying on similar tools to analyze problems in both education and healthcare, field-specific differences in how the U.S. welfare state is organized have caused some economist-driven initiatives to be more successful than others. This has general implications for how sociologists understand the influence of economic expertise on public policy.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 188. Expertise III: The Politics of Policy Ideas