Foundations of the Regulatory State
 Spring 2005, Section 3

Memo Assignment #1

(Posted 1/28/2005)

This memo assignment is designed to reinforce material discussed in class and to help you exercise writing skills in the area of regulatory policy. You must complete at least 3 of the 4 memos assigned during the term. These assignments will not be graded, but will be marked "check," "check-plus," or "check-minus," generally with brief comments. Superior or delinquent performance on the memos will count toward your grade in the same way as contributions to class discussion, but the main way in which the memos influence grades is by providing practice in writing short essays of the same format that will be used on the final exam.

Please submit your memo via e-mail if at all possible; this will enable us to keep better track of the memos and to provide more timely feedback.  So that files are not overwritten, please give your memo a filename that includes your last name. E.g., if I were submitting a memo in Word format, it would be called katz.memo1.doc.  Please also be sure to include your name in the memo text as well, so that it will show when we print out hard copies. You should send copies of your memo both to me and to the TA responsible for your panel. For this first memo, the TA assignments are as follows:

Panel 1: Karla Valenti
Panel 2: Dominique Alepin
Panel 3: Spencer Barrowes
Panel 4: Eric Haskell

I will presume, unless you tell me otherwise in your cover message, that if we find your essay to be among the best we receive, I have your permission to post it [with your name removed] as part of my feedback to the class, as with last year's memos. If you do not wish to grant such permission, please let me know expressly.  Your decision whether to grant or reserve such permission will not affect your memo score or class standing in any way.

This assignment is due on or before Friday, February 4 at 5 pm.  Extensions will not be granted absent compelling circumstances.  You should not do any additional research in preparing your analysis, and you should limit the time you spend on this assignment to not more than four hours.

In a recent discussion on their Internet weblog, economist Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner discussed some of the policy issues relating to the government's proper role in the provision of student loans for higher education. An edited version of their initial remarks has been placed on our courseweb server for your background reading (network ID and password required for copyright reasons.)

In the introductory notes to their blog, Posner writes: "Blogging is a major new social, political, and economic phenomenon. It is a fresh and striking exemplification of Friedrich Hayek’s thesis that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge. The powerful mechanism that was the focus of Hayek’s work, as as of economists generally, is the price system (the market). The newest mechanism is the “blogosphere.” There are 4 million blogs. The internet enables the instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement, and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship, generated by bloggers. We have decided to start a blog that will explore current issues of economics, law, and policy in a dialogic format."

Taking Becker's and Posner's remarks as a starting point, write your own short blog entry on the student loan issue, using no more than 500 words and no more than two pages of hard copy.  Your entry may focus on whatever aspects of the issue you wish, but you should address in some way the overall merits of government support for higher education loans, drawing on the ideas and materials we have discussed in the first three weeks of the course. There is no need for you to do any additional reading on this issue, and since your entry should be focused on issues we have discussed in the class, such reading would likely provide more distraction than help.

A warning: it would not be effective to try to work into your essay all the major ideas we have discussed in the course; you do not have enough space and the length limit is firm [indeed, both Becker and Posner took considerably more than 500 words in writing their posts.] Instead, try to identify a limited number of points (say, two or three) and concentrate on expressing them clearly and in a way that could have a chance of persuading an audience of non-specialists. The two blog entries linked above should be taken not just as background material, accordingly, but also as illustrations of the genre. 

For further guidance on style and substance, please look at my feedback memo from 2003's first memo assignment, which includes copies of the top student memos I received, and explains what made those memos the best ones. You may also find it useful to look at this Powerpoint presentation on editing policy memos, prepared by Prof. Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law School in connection with his useful book, Academic Legal Writing.