We will start our academic program with a U.S. history refresher on the origins of the U.S and other western hemisphere nations as a consequence of the 16th and 17th century colonial competition between several European empires. This was followed by a series of 18th and 19th century revolutions against the colonial powers and the creation of a series of independent nations. In the U.S. case, the national government was built around the 1787 constitution. It required separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches; a federal division of government responsibility between national, regional, and local governments; and a very open system which now allows two major political parties, a wide mix of interest groups, and other partisans to compete for influence. We also have a very active not-for-profit sector in the U.S. which shares some traits with government and some with private business, and serves many purposes done by government or individual families in other countries.
Other democratic nations in the world have either parliamentary systems which combine control of the executive branch with control of the legislature, and/or unitary arrangements which do not allow the same degree of autonomy between national, regional, and local governments. Our three policy topics of focus provide very specific examples of how the U.S. use of separation of powers and of federalism affects policy results.
For example, systems of taxation are critical to the survival of any government and have a significant impact on the distribution of wealth. In the U.S., the heavy dependence of local governments on the property tax, state governments on sales and income taxes, and the national government on the personal income tax and payroll taxes is a crucial component of understanding how American government at all three levels works.
Similarly, there is a federal organization of the U.S. educational system, courts, and law enforcement. K-12 education is heavily weighted toward local control and local taxation with both substantial subsidy and significant policy directives emanating from the state governments. The national government has very little say in crucial decisions such as curricula and personnel and pays only around ten percent of the total educational bill. Federal involvement in higher education consists of very important subsidies for individual students in the form of federal grants and loans programs and substantial support for faculty research, but relatively little direct monetary support for personnel and operations expenses for the universities.
Our court and law enforcement systems are also shaped by the federal nature of our system. Article III of the U.S. Constitution establishes a federal judicial system independent of the legislative and executive branches while the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments provide the legal basis for protection of the individual and rule of law in our system. At the same time, there are extensive state and local courts in every jurisdiction in the U. S. Most people who face the American system of justice will do so in a state court. They will be arrested by a state or local law enforcement officer and will be incarcerated in a state prison or local jail. While there are well-known federal law enforcement authorities, such as the FBI, they are a relatively small part of the overall law enforcement personnel in this country.
All of this material will be presented in on-campus classes, and then examined further in the visits to national, state, and local governmental units and the non-profit agency volunteer time.