Value differences and international policy analysis

A few years ago, another instructor and I redesigned the Advanced Policies class to include a focus on comparative international social policy. The School ended up deciding that it detracted too much from the emphasis on U.S. social policy that students needed to succeed in policy practice, and I don’t disagree, but there is something that I took from that course and from my subsequent comparative policy analyses that I still find very illuminating.

Often, when I assign my students to read about child welfare policies in Japan or Sweden’s support for new parents or the phenomenon of female poverty around the world, they think that I am expressing a preference for those policy approaches and a desire to see them brought to the U.S. And it’s true that there is a lot to admire in the way that other countries approach some of the same social problems with which we grapple here, and I want to see us learn from others’ efforts, since the search for ‘best practices’ in a lot of policy work is quite elusive. However, we have learned enough about all of the moving parts in policy development–political climate, economic capacity, demographic imperatives, shared history and culture–to know that no social policy can be neatly picked up and plopped down in another nation. So I think that the global search for the next “bright shiny object” is a rather fruitless endeavor.

Instead, what I think is most helpful about comparative social policy analysis is what it can help us to understand about social policy in the United States. Often, because we are embedded in this culture and this context, we have a hard time disentangling the social policy which surrounds us from the values which propel it. We can’t see these values clearly because they are a part of who we are, how we see the world, how we’ve always done things. And this is a trap.

We know that failing to recognize these values and the role that they play in shaping social policy will make social policy change much more difficult, because it is only through appealing to values and value motivations that we maximize our chances of changing the conversation about a given social problem and, thus, the social policy that stems from it.

Because that’s really the job of values in social policy development–constraining the view of a particular social problem so that solving it in a particular way becomes, then, ‘common sense’. If we can win that battle over value alignment, it’s like rolling a snowball downhill to change the policy.

And, so, once we can see the values at work in other nations’ approaches to their social problem challenges, and see how those values compare and contrast with our own, our analytical tools are sharpened to examine the value foundations of our own social policy structures and the ways in which those values do, and do not, align with social work’s values. And then we can really get to work.

As an example, think about how bizarre Temporary Assistance for Needy Families’ low benefit levels and strict work requirements for families with young children would seem to someone not imbued with our values around work and self-sufficiency. Conversely, how could we explain even the existence of TANF without understanding the value we place on family? Our social policy development process is best understood, then, as battlegrounds in which the values of social control and social assistance, charitable obligation and patriarchal oppression, community and autonomy duel for supremacy. And the resulting policies are most fully understood as efforts to reconcile these competing aims in ways that are often contradictory or, at least, confused.

To begin this journey of value exploration, look at social policies in your area of interest within another national context (or several). What values shine through? How do these values shape the definition of the social problem and the decision to intervene in the first place?

Now look at the U.S. approach to this social problem. Applying a kind of “stranger in a strange land” technique, how can you uncover the layers of values at work here? How can you appeal to these values as you frame your desired policy change? Or, if necessary, how can you begin the process of shifting the values held around this particular problem to open up political space for new interventions? We can’t assume that values are immutable–look at the evolution of ideas about women in the labor market, for example.

Perhaps even more difficult, explore your own values in this policy arena. Are your values aligned with those of the social work profession? If not, how are yours different? How do your values align with society’s? What has shaped the development of your value orientation to this problem, and how might you tap into those same dynamics to shift the public consensus around the problem?

We are an undeniably advanced society, with a complex governmental structure, robust private institutions, and unparalleled (even in today’s economic downturn) wealth. We could eradicate poverty, provide access to health care for all, and give every family the tools it needs to keep its children safe. The persistence of our social problems is not a technical dilemma; it is the rather natural consequence of the expression of our value preferences.

We can ‘unlearn’ much of what we now take for granted, and we can envision new ways to approach our world. But we need fresh eyes with which to see. And that’s what international policy analysis can give us.

Now do you understand why we care about the social insurance system in Germany?

31 responses to “Value differences and international policy analysis

  1. First I would like to start off by saying that perhaps your idea of having a comparitive model was taking away from valuable learning in that course BUT I am surprised by the lack of interest in international social work learning, or the teaching thereof. As everyone in the SWAAP program knows, it can be difficult being a minority in the graduate program, it is even more difficult when your area of interest is not mentioned at all or maybe only in one breath during one class in policy. I am actually not sure how one can accurately about diversity, religion, and other minority status’ in the US if there is never a real emphasis in divulging into a study of international social analysis of some kind.

    Over the summer I in the seminar class we were asked to write a paper about a on and so. I chose the Muslim population…but not Muslim Americans. I chose a perspective from outside of the US. The values of persons outside of the United States are much different than the values within our borders. Even if you are speaking to someone with a different background. For example, long living US Muslims or Muslim born citizens have grown up with the same values that mainstream America did; individualism, capitalism, nuclear family etc. In Kuwait for instance parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins may all live in one home. Can you imagine what the neighbors would think if that happened here? The government also provides a home to persons if they do not have one and do not have the means to have one. They may borrow money from a bank/government and then pay back as they can…AND they don’t have to pay interest on their debt. It is a sin according to the Quran and this is something that they value. When talking to a Kuwaiti student about why they would do this his response was surprisingly simple, “why not?” Really? Of course, why wouldn’t we want to provide housing to every person in need? Here’s the catch though, their government owns their very lucrative oil and is shared among the very rich citizens of Kuwait, it is not owned by persons or corporations. Another thing we teach our children but I don’t believe we value in America…sharing.

    This may not be the most comparitive country since they are so small and they are a very new democracy…women just got the right to vote in 2007 I think. But, it is still beneficial I think to know how everyone else is working. As Americans I am afraid although we strive for globalism we are farely isolationist as well. Some strive to globalize the market but at the same time our citizens are isolating ourselves from the outside world entrentched by our superiority, bigotry, and fear.

    I do believe my values are in line with social work values but not so much with American values. However, with my very limited experience in the profession I have not observed the social work profession having any type of emphasis on social work outside of the country. The NASW code of ethics does not say you are obligated to promote social welfare ‘in the US’. It says that you should promote the general welfare of society, from local to GLOBAL levels…! This should not just be done to advance other countries and their social well being but also for our profession to grow and develop. To expand our ideas, and to find the “ultimate” best practice we can not be scared to compare our own ideas/values/interventions with other contries.

    Homelessesness, or risk of, is a major concern of mine. In America we value division of labor and that everyone participate in society. In many ways excuses are only that, there is no explaining anything away. We tolerate very few persons who do not participate including children and elderly, and to a much lesser extent, persons with disability. While in other parts of world children are fare game, there is not such hostility toward one who does not/can not/will not participate in the division of labor. It is a neccesity more than it is a value. Perhaps it is this way because in many areas a family must take care of each other for food, shelter, clothing, etc. and it is not up to an individual to go out and get a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart. We MUST look at the values of others, and their interventions/strategies to find out what works and what doesn’t and for whom.

    • Good point, Danielle, about how much we have to learn about other perspectives, and other countries’ approaches to social policy, and yet how little emphasis we place on this cross-contextual understanding in social work education or practice. Your examples are instructive ones, illustrating how “commonsense” a particular policy approach can seem, when it’s rooted in one’s cultural frame, and how literally foreign that same policy appears from another perspective. Are there particular policies that you learned about that you think would “import” well to the U.S. context? If so, how might social workers play a role in such a process?

      • I did not learn a lot about their specific policies, more about their values. It was very interesting to me that when I asked this student questions about how their government reacts to certain problems/issues he continually was surprised when I told him how we do things in America. He would get an expression of disgust at times and say, “Oh no, that is forbidden.” For instance, with charging interest on a loan…forbidden. He also spoke of their political process, if their “congressman” or persons elected were not doing good for their people or helping, the “president” has the right to fire them and the people have to elect someone else.

        I was also amazed by his perseption of us and the war. He said he was upset and hated the Taliban/Jihadist/insurgence more than we did because they made the whole world hate Islam. He did not understand also why many Americans didn’t want to go to war with Iraq. History lesson for me, we helped Kuwait against Iraq in the 90’s. So, he was very happy that we invaded Iraq. However, when we discussed the possibility that we may only have invaded Iraq for oil he said to me, “don’t you want your country to be rich?” I sadly had to tell him that the owners of the oil don’t share the wealth with every person in the country. It only benefits the few people who own it. “This,” he said, “is forbidden”.
        They have a real value for sharing wealth and resources, to which we really have no clue about. I thought that a policy like that could have some profound outcomes if implemented in the US were the few have many and the many have few.

      • What a fascinating conversation, Danielle, and so many insights into another’s perspective. It makes me think, anew, about opportunities to integrate international content into comparative policy study, as a lens through which to better understand our own systems.

  2. Those were interesting comments Danielle. It’s timely too, in light of the recent rabble-rousing of that guy in Florida wanting to burn the Quran. It hurts my heart to think that someone thought this was a good idea, yet the event is without a doubt being used to merely garner some kind of attention, kind of like Fred Phelps. Especially now, when we have so much access to people across the Earth, it is important to always try to remember to put ourselves in other’s shoes the best we know how.
    On a different note, the difference between how (most) Eastern and (most) Western families treat their parents or older relatives has always fascinated me. Eastern families generally are extremely strong units. To parents, children are a form of social insurance for when they are older. They expect their children to care for them, just as they cared for their children. Children are taught all their lives to revere their elders and thus when their parents or relatives are not able to care for themselves, it is considered the child’s duty to care for them.
    We know how the Western system works. It’s not that we want our parents to be in a congregate care facility AT ALL. It just seems to be a little lower on the priority list to care for parents than to care for young children. I mean, upon looking for funding for older adults at my practicum, I kept finding foundations that ONLY funded children’s initiatives or youth initiatives. Danielle and I were talking about how difficult it is to find funding for certain populations, for instance aging or homeless people.
    However, I think Japan’s system worked a little too well. Their population has the longest life expectancy in the world with the average now being 82 years old. THAT’S THE AVERAGE! Some are living way longer than that. So, there are wayyy to many older folks who are not working than there are children. Additionally, some of the children of these parents are elderly themselves! Very often 60 or 70 year olds are taking care of 80 or 90 year olds. If a caretaker falls and breaks a bone, they cannot care for their parent. Perhaps there will be a “double sandwich” generation in Japan.
    Japan’s aging infrastructure is certain different from ours in the US. I think there are things we can learn from its successes as well as its potential impending problems.
    (I consulted World Bank for the life expectancy of Japan, Manio and Hall [1987] for the information on Eastern family styles and this website [] for information about families today in Japan.)

    • Excellent example, Emily, about values around elder care. It’s especially a poignant one, because it’s clear that, while Western and Eastern children both love their parents (and Western and Eastern parents their children), social norms and societal expectations govern how that love, a universal emotion, is expressed in behavior. Of course, policies play a role in shaping those behavioral responses, too, even when contrary to values. How might elder care activities be different in the U.S. without Social Security, Medicare, and long-term care facilities? What would the repercussions be? Similarly, in Japan, how might policies that attempt to drive families to different outcomes shape behavior, and, perhaps, even impact values over the long-term? What, to you, should determine a country’s policies regarding care for elders in need? In other words, whose values get to predominate–the elders, or their children, or taxpayers? Or how do you balance these sometimes competing preferences?

  3. I personally enjoy learning about social policies in other countries. It intrigues me to think about how such programs could work here. While programs from other countries may not supply all the answers to our social problems, it seems like a good place to look for alternative ways to combat social problems. I also enjoy learning about programs in other countries because it illustrates what each country deems as propriety. Overall the social policy tells us a lot about what a country’s values are by what program is funded, how well it is funded, and how they determine an at-risk social population. It is apparent that the US is a very individualist nation. We encourage people to become individuals, to support themselves, and be successful without the support of others. However, many social problems seem to be exacerbated by this value. I found it interesting that Japan has daycare support for families who have parents who work on the weekend or during the night. To me this illustrates the understanding and concern for all families in the community. Where in the US, we do not have such programs; which supports my belief that we are only concerned with families who participate in work schedules similar to the majority.

    Last year an international doctoral student came to speak to one of our classes about her Asian culture and the differences with the American culture. At the time of this presentation I was working on programming for sexually-reactive youth (children who sexually act out on themselves or on others). One of the motivating ideas behind this programming was developing boundaries between children and their environment, especially in the home. The research encouraged families to design special times and locations for youth to change, bathe, and have privacy. A major rule was to have youth sleep in their OWN beds. Researchers believed that having children sleep in bed with their parents or other youth confused youth on personal boundaries, and of course facilitated that occurrence of sexual abuse. However, the international student explained that in her country it was acceptable for youth to sleep in the same bed with their parents. She stated that she slept in the same bed as her mom until she was well into her teens. For me this was shocking. Growing up in Salina, Ks it was frowned upon to have youth sleep in bed with their parents. Also, I began to question the importance of encouraging youth to sleep in their beds for our programming.

    Then after reading the article, I picked up something interesting. Reports suggest that Japan is experiencing a rise in child abuse cases, including sexual abuse. It would be interesting to study the boundaries in the family unit and the occurrence of sexual abuse. I believe exploring the relationship between the acceptance and occurrence of certain cultural values (such as sleeping in bed with family members into late childhood and adolescence) to the incident of sexual abuse may yield a better understanding of the social incident of sexual abuse.

    • Jody, it’s so difficult for research to disentangle the relationships between values and policy outcomes…is the rise in sexual abuse related to values and the behaviors they motivate, or do certain values serve as a mitigating factor against all of the other contributors to abuse, in a way that we don’t fully understand? Or, some of both, with multiple, even conflicting values at play? Certainly we see examples of this, in a variety of social problem areas, in our own country, and, too, likely in others.

    • My first response to a correlation between family bedroom boundaries and the rise in sexual abuse in Japan is that they probably aren’t a causal link. My reasoning, though, only being that if the Japanese have historically let their children sleep in their beds, why are they just now experiencing a rise in sexual abuse? Logically, one would assume that something else is a contributor to the rise but that is not to say that the sleeping arrangements aren’t at all a contributor. After all, letting your child play near a sex offenders house is not safe…even though them playing there did not cause it, but it maybe could have prevented it.

      I struggle with this value base in my home where my babies have slept in my bed out of convience to being a new breastfeeding mother recovering from a c-section. Futher, sadly to say, we just purchased a king size bed because my family has outgrown our queen since my now three year old has decided that he no longer wants to sleep in his room since the baby was born. I am interested in seeing the studies that show positive correlations between the two. Although, I must say, habits are hard to break.

      • The issues you raise, Danielle, are some of the reasons why completely determining the impact of policy changes is so difficult–so many factors converge on a given problem situation!

  4. I have known many acquaintances over the years from other countries with whom I have had some in-depth philosophical discussions about various topics, including issues of policy. In the initial stages of developing the connection, a common question I am asked is, “Where are you from?” The question always intrigues me so I respond, “Why?” And, invariably, the answer I get is, “Because you don’t act like a typical arrogant American who thinks he has the only answer to a problem.”

    That sentiment often seems universal. It is very sad that foreigners view us that way. It should not be like that. We should not think that we have all the answers or the “right” solution to a problem or issue and neither should others. We can learn so much from each other through careful research and analysis. We are all human, and though we are different and unique in some regard, we are also similar and share some commonalities in our development.

    I understand why we care about the social insurance systems in other more developed countries like ours as well as less developed countries like our Southern neighbors. Other nations’ historical choices regarding policy and the intertwined relationship with their cultural views are very important. The context in which decisions are made can be as important as the content of the decision. Understanding why other people do what they do helps us understand why we do the things that we do. It is always very valuable to see the patterns throughout history and not duplicate the same mistakes. We can also take the “pearls” of their efforts and apply them to our situation while discarding the “perils.” Even if we do not incorporate their tactics or approaches in our methodology, we can be respectful of their processes.

    My field of passion is grief and loss. I desire to create policy for grief and loss as none currently exist in the United States. In my research, I have discovered that Australia and New Zealand have the leading bereavement policies in the world. Other countries and cultures have some very distinct views about those who die and those who are left to mourn their absence. Engaging in comprehensive analysis of what other across the globe have done or are doing in the field answers some questions and also creates new questions. It makes the conversation richer and more competent.

    • Luana, the area of grief and loss seems, to me, particularly rich in international comparisons, because of the interface between “private” expressions of loss and the very public policies that shape how we can deal with and heal from those universal experiences. It’s an area, then, where cultural nuances are mitigated or reinforced by structural constraints, and you can see differences and overlaps in both areas when you look between national contexts. I like your language around “pearls” and “perils”, too…the challenge, of course, is that it’s not always entirely obvious which is which…and a pearl can become a peril, when applied in a very different environmental context!

  5. International Social Work is so fascinating to me. I remember taking courses in criminal justice about the different models of juvenile justice in collective countries compared to the US. We are such a wealthy country with so many resources, but because of our individualistic foundation, working together is often looked at as weak.
    I agree with the fact that we can not just expect to bring a successful program from another country over, and expect it to have the same results. However, I do feel that in ways the United States would be in so much better shape if we did choose to open up and learn about programs and policies that benefit the population in other countries.
    Policies such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are outdated, and have no real empirical foundation to stand on. Many developed nations such as Canada and Great Britain have long since abandoned such discriminatory policies. The research on these armed forces shows that there is not a problem with cohesiveness and team work in hostile situations. This to me is a perfect example of why the United States should research policies in other countries; and how by not doing so we are only hurting ourselves as a nation.

    • That fundamental cultural orientation piece, collective v. individual orientation, is so critical, I think, Molly. We know that how we understand a problem influences so much about how we attempt to solve it (which is why social indicators matter so much). Applying that same lens, then, to the issue of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (which may be just a bad memory after tomorrow’s vote!!), what explains the U.S. policy stance, and what challenges would we face in trying to use the experiences of other countries to change it? What I’m trying to ask is, what affects which policies we pursue, beyond our mere knowledge about other alternatives? And how can we use international experiences, and those comparisons, to shift this foundation?

    • Danielle Ferrell

      “I agree with the fact that we can not just expect to bring a successful program from another country over, and expect it to have the same results”. -This is something that I have heard many times when talking with others about social service systems of other countries, however, this should not be impede the conversation or the action of striving to reach similar goals and expectations as other countries may see in their successful non profits or governmental agencies.

  6. I find it understandable yet strange that we have removed international policy from our course work. Understandable, because our case load is dense enough. Strange because there is such a strong push for cultural competency in our program. Anyhow, a topic that I will continue to come back to time and time again, is human trafficking. The TVPA in particular is something that I thought of when reading your blog. Back in 2000, there was a strong conception that trafficking was something that happened in other countries or sometimes in coastal or border towns in the U.S., but never to U.S. citizens. It wasn’t until the application of the TVPA that we began to learn, that yes it is happening in small town USA and it is happening to US Citizens. Reauthorizing the law took 3 years, and finally appropriations are being passed down to few organizations to address this frightening trend. I don’t think that there is a strong enough push from the community at large to make the appropriation be what they should. I don’t think it is because people don’t care that there are humans being sold into slavery, but rather they just don’t know that it exists. So finally, we have funds, limited as they are, to help U.S. Citizens that is being passed out only one decade after the enactment of the TVPA. The United States was finally listed with all other countries being rated for their efforts to combat trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Report to congress in 2010. The first time we rated ourselves for our efforts in 10 years. Doesn’t that speak to how we feel about it happening here? Doesn’t that scream, if it were happening here, we would handle it better than you?

    • Carrie, what was the global response to the inclusion of the U.S. in the rankings? And to the fact that we had not previously been included? In terms of trafficking, it seems that better global understanding would also help social workers dealing with persons trafficked from other countries, to surpass a simplistic ‘explanation’ for the victimization to include more complex economic, social, and political effects. That raises an important question about what social work education should prioritize, given that, as you point out, it’s not an infinite resource.

  7. Jessica Clatterbuck

    I believe that you make an excellent point in stating that because we are embedded in this culture and this context we experience difficulty when attempting to recognize the value base or ideology behind it. I think that, en masse, people accept status quo definitions and constructions of what is good or desirable in this country and of course this ‘group-think’ represents itself in our public policy. I point this out because uniformed apathy becomes one of the largest barriers when attempting to advocate for sound policy, whether it be fiscal, social, or educational (for example). In fact, I appreciated your statement about values being used as mechanisms of constraint in policy development and decisions. I think that this rings true… especially when looking at ‘who’ is appointed in our government; there is an obvious disparity in representation whether it be race, sex, ethnicity, ability, etc.
    I have often wondered why the U.S., being birthed as a country of immigrants from various backgrounds, has ignored some lessons that other countries have experienced. I don’t think that means that, as a nation, we should adopt every viable policy exhibited by other nations… because we have different systemic responses to issues and value ‘lenses’ though which we analyze said issues. However, I would like for U.S. policy makers to evaluate policies that have been proven to work in order to tease out elements that could strengthen our own policy responses.

    • It’s not accidental, Jessica, that our vision of our “immigrant nation” is one of a melting pot, where people’s backgrounds are distorted, or destroyed, in pursuit of a new, pure smelting. I think that’s where some of those lessons are lost.

  8. Other countries social problem systems have always interested me. I think it is important to look at other countries to see what social systems and values they embody. Comparing and contrasting this information is thought provoking and provides depths of knowledge. Value systems stand out in social service systems. The United States has spent a lot of effort towards individuality and ‘make it on your own’ values. However, humans, by nature, need one another.

    I think it would be greatly beneficial to study other social service industries in other countries to evaluate what can be done in the United States for the betterment of the people. However, the human nature is also keenly opposed to change. Changing policy in small increments seems the way to make great change without vast opposition that will shut down the changes.

    I did a paper last year that encompassed the Chinese family. I learned a lot about the values in China. I interviewed a grandmother who currently lives in the US that was born in China and later moved to the US with her children and now has grandchildren. We discussed the differences in values between her cultural/ethnic background and what she has noticed in the US. It was a very interesting experience. It was intriguing to me to realize the vast differences in familial care. In the US we value family, however, often we value them better when they are on their own and able to support themselves. When someone is unable to care for themselves they tend to fall into the “burden” arena and familial care is limited and social service support is expected. The Chinese live with a completely different value system. The family is most important. They care for and help family members. It is a way of life and a very strong value. This is not to say that ALL Chinese families follow the same values (just as all Americans do not follow the same values), however, this is a common example of the familial value.

    • That’s fascinating, Trina–we have so much to learn! And, yes, I think the whole fallacy of the individual is one of the best reasons why paying attention to other cultural contexts, and how those contexts influence policy. Unfortunately, today, because forces other than authentic value preferences are the primary drivers in social policy, we’re seeing our preoccupation with savings, with “self-sufficiency”, and with individual responsibility exported to the rest of the world, rather than the other way around. I have heard from social workers in Australia and the UK, in particular, who are outraged (rightfully so) by the cost-cutting measures enacted there.

  9. I too have also been interested in social policy and services in the international setting. To me, it helps expand our knowledge on policy and could possibly give us indeas to implement in our own practice setting. I think it is beneficial to see how other countries arrage their social policy, what works, what does not, etc. Not only could we benefit from international policy, but they too could benefit from us.

    Another reason I am interested in international policy is to expand my knowledge about policy in general. We work with a vast majority of populations and if we know how their country of origin may implement their policy, we have greater tools to provide services to them.

    • That last point is really interesting, Kayla–because we have such limited knowlege of other countries’ responses to social problems, we miss the opportunity to have that context when dealing with populations from other parts of the world. Excellent point–it could explain a lot about how people experience policy responses here in the U.S. Thanks for your comment!

  10. I love to travel which has increased my passion and desire to learn about other countries. I think it is fascinating to learn about how others live, not just in other countries but also in the U.S. As mentioned, all people living in the U.S. do not carry the same values or agree about the best approaches to government and social policy. The same is true for those people living in other countries. Each individual has their own experiences that have shaped the values they hold. It is important to listen to all people, no matter their culture or ethnicity. Going along with this, I do find it beneficial to study social policies from other countries, mostly for the reasons already mentioned.

    I do think it is important to look at these social policies in the context of the culture the policy is implemented into. There are several international policies that seem to work best for other countries, however, if they were to be implemented into the U.S. there could be mass chaos, at least for a short time. Take the drinking age for instance or the idea of the government starting a savings account for all newborns. If the U.S. changed the drinking age to be that of Germany (16), many consequences could occur including an increase in teen drinking and driving and teen deaths. If the idea that the government will start savings accounts for all newborns was proposed at this current time, I’m not sure that most politicians would even consider supporting it.

    I think when looking at international social policy, you have to see it in two lenses. The first being the lens of the culture the policy is implemented, and then the lens of the U.S. You must Identify what parts of the policy make sense for the U.S. and also, as mentioned in the book, are feasible for the current government to pass. Knowing the current political culture and climate is necessary.

    • I wonder, Corinn, then, how do we get to the point of being able to learn from the policy approaches of other countries, as appropriate, given the obvious “growing pains” that you identify–how can we ever hurdle that transition period so that we’re not stuck with policies that aren’t working, or, at least, barred from adopting those that look appealing? Can we shift values somewhat, to create spaces for policy innovations? Or are there ways to modify policies so that they are better “fits” for our value preferences? Or both?

  11. I love the idea of looking at social policy in other countries. It’s important to study how other countries deal with social problems and what policies they have in place to attack the problem. We can look at the successes and failures of their policies and learn from these. I think it would greatly benefit U.S. policymakers to look at a country that has a successful policy in place regarding a particular issue and use that blueprint in shaping policy in this country.

    With that being said, I understand that every country is vastly different. I understand that our values as a nation are also very different when compared to other countries. My main point is that U.S. policymakers should keep an open mind. I feel that we get into a dangerous game of competing with other nations instead of learning from each other to do what is best for the people of this country.

    After I read this and thought about U.S. policy, the only thing that kept popping in my mind is my personal belief that our great country has a problem with pride, specifically concerning our country’s healthcare and education. While huge amounts of money have been spent on shaping policy for both, we still rank in the middle of the pack when compared with other developed nations. While I think there are numerous other factors that contribute to this, I think pride within policymakers plays a small part in this. It seems that policymakers want to develop a U.S. way of doing things that is different from the rest of the world, as to say that we came up with our strategy and that this way works the best, instead of collaborating with other countries and working towards what is best for the people of this nation. I could be way off base with my assumptions because I am not familiar with social policy in other nations. I feel that politics play too much into policymakers decisions, as they are becoming less concerned about what is best for the people and more concerned about what they have to do to get re-elected.

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  13. Reviewing the social policies and welfare systems of other countries is an important part developing a personal method or strategy for policy practice.Expanding your understanding of what is possible helps generate innovation. However, I think that comparing and contrasting these policies with U.S. policies (and values) can be cause for concern if we are not well instructed in how to approach these issues. We need to learn how to deconstruct (and reconstruct) our perceptions and values during the process to avoid over simplifying differences or making our evaluations about our emotional reactions. I’m struck that the school feels like it is too distracting from other goals of policy courses, because I think it enhances a student’s understanding of policy.

    Last week I was talking with a new acquaintance who is from Russia and is in the States to study economics. We ended up engaging in a lively discussion about our respective home nations’ social and political cultures, including some social welfare policies.Even such a casual discussion based on personal experiences allowed me to view some of our social policies in a different light. Particularly, I could see the parallels in how the different political environments and the different histories of the two countries dramatically shaped the social welfare policies (and implementation). Of course, I already knew that politics and history influence policy, but these ideas come alive in these type of comparative discussions.

    The thoughtful comparison of values, I think, is particularly important. I learned this while growing up in a socially liberal family while living in pretty conservative communities. Eventually, I was able to translate my frustration and pain (oh adolescence!) to a view of understanding and appreciation. Even if I didn’t share the same views or express my values in the same ways, I came away with an appreciation for why people felt/believed they way they did. This was much more productive than finger pointing and raging rants. By the end of high school, I was able to have (some) calm conversations about burning issues such as abortion and LGBT rights with people who had very different perspectives. We didn’t change each other’s minds, but just having open dialogue is was a huge step forward. This lesson is relevant because I can easily become upset and angry with our country about why our welfare outcomes/indicators are SO much worse than many other developed countries, or I can explore the meaning of those differences and come to an understanding so that I can have a rational influence on the situation.

    • Thank you for these comments, Anna. I am especially struck by your reminder that we need a more nuanced comparative lens than a reflexive “that’s good, that’s bad” evaluation, regardless of whether we would see U.S. social policies as falling on the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side of that equation; without a political, economic, and social context in which to place those comparisons, they are worse than meaningless, because we can base our understanding on seriously misguided assessments. The point of such an analysis should be, I think, to both better understand others (and their points of view), but also ourselves, so that we can not only better identify where we might want to push for changes, but also to more effectively articulate our values and what we stand for, too. It sounds like you had some very valuable experiences through which to sharpen those skills growing up and, while not easy then, how wonderful that you learned those lessons at such a time in your life! Thank you for sharing.

  14. I know a big difference between the Eastern and Western cultures is the value each place on independence vs interdependence. We Westerners have a much higher value on our independence and individuality and all of our rights that come along with that where the East have more of a focus on the interdependence of individuals and how that forms a community, and that community is priority.
    I can’t be certain but I think that may manifest itself in how the U.S. and Japan differ in their handling of foster children. In the U.S. there is a big emphasis on getting children placed into families. This I believe values independence by getting the child into their own family and forming a small close unit. Where in Japan they don’t move foster children into single family homes they keep them in large foster homes. The kids stay there until they age out and often times come back to work or volunteer at the foster home. The homes help them with education and job skills, and the children form close life long relationships with each other and the foster home workers, who, also often times live in the home.
    I know the U.S used to have many large foster homes/orphanages and it didn’t work out too well, but the foster care system now is close to a disaster. Having to place all those children into single family homes, the process of licensing all those homes, and monitoring once a placement takes place takes a lot of resources. In a time when resources are short I don’t know if using a fraction of that to keep children in large foster homes, that have been modernized in services, may not be a better option. Rather than moving through several single family foster homes and never forming any lasting relationships maybe in a large foster home at least the children can come out with each other.

    • You know, I’ve never really thought about how our preference for placement of foster children in individual families responds to the imperative for individualized approaches to social problems, but yours is a great point. If there wasn’t so much stigma–indeed, pathology–associated with not ‘belonging’ to an individual family, I wonder if the group environments would have worked out better…because the children wouldn’t be seen as ‘missing out’ on something so invaluable. Are there ways to foster these alternative values, to emphasize the collective, within our social policy, as a way of prompting social norms?

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