Social Policy

When most Americans hear the term "public policy" they probably think first about social policy--laws, programs and rules that address issues such as welfare, health care, crime, environmental problems, abortion, and education. Social policy debates tend to be complex and contentious because people often hold sharply contrasting views about the best course of action and because they perceive so much being at stake.

Generally speaking, social policy debates are waged at two levels--at the big-picture, philosophical level and at the practical, implementation level. Philosophically, people may differ in their support for government action or inaction, the emphasis they place on liberty or order, republicanism or democracy. These opposing views are often deeply held and have significant implications for the ways citizens and politicians approach policy problems.

These philosophical differences also manifest themselves at the practical level. Assuming a societal value can be agreed upon, what is the best policy or set of policies to foster that value? For example, while liberals and conservatives generally agree that abortions should be rare and that poverty should be eliminated, they disagree sharply about the way to achieve these outcomes. Today, there is broad support for "quality" education; but, liberals generally favor more federal governmental involvement while conservatives support local independence and control. Bridging these "practical" gaps is not easy because of the philosophical foundations from which they arise.

Reasearch and Study Helps

FedStats.gov Gateway to a host of federal government statistics

Headlines & Editorials

Washington Post Special Report on Social Security