Charles R. Shipan and Craig Volden, "Why Bad Policies Spread (and Good Ones Don't)" (Cambridge UP, 2021)


Building on a deep theoretical foundation and drawing on numerous examples, Volden and Shipan examine how policies spread across the American states in Why Bad Policies Spread (and Good Ones Don't) (Cambridge University Press, 2021). The authors argue that for good policies to spread while bad policies are pushed aside, states must learn from one another. The three ingredients for this positive outcome are observable experiments, time to learn, and favorable incentives and expertise among policymakers. Although these ingredients are sometimes plentiful, the authors also note causes for concern, such as when policies are complex or incompatible with current practices, when policymakers give in to underlying political biases, or when political institutions lack the capacity for cultivating expertise. Under such conditions, states may rely on competition, imitation, and coercion, rather than learning, which can allow bad policies, rather than good ones, to spread. Volden and Shipan conclude with lessons for reformers and policymakers and an assessment of the overall argument based on state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Volden is a Professor of Public Policy and Politics, with appointments in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. He is Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, and has published numerous articles in such journals as: American Political Science Review; American Journal of Political Science; Journal of Politics; Legislative Studies Quarterly; Public Administration Review; Journal of Public Policy; and Publius: The Journal of Federalism.

Host Ursula Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her Cambridge University Press book America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State won the 2021 Education Politics and Policy Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association. Her writing guide Brilliant Essays is published by Macmillan Study Skills. She tweets @UrsulaBHackett.

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Ursula Hackett

Ursula Hackett is Reader in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of America’s Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

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