As ISPS director, Hacker to focus on "real-world" problems

Jacob Hacker, the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science and a leading expert on the politics of U.S. health and social policy, has been appointed director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), Yale’s center for interdisciplinary research in the social sciences and public policy. His three-year term began on July 1.

Founded in 1968, ISPS currently sponsors four University programs that advance its agenda to enhance social science scholarship and deepen understanding of important issues in the public arena: The Center for the Study of American Politics, the Agrarian Studies program, the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and the undergraduate major in Ethics, Politics and Economics. Among the activities supported by the institution are faculty seminars, postdoctoral programs and research publications.

In his new role as director of the 43-year-old institution, Hacker says he hopes to build on the legacy of outgoing director Donald Green, who leaves ISPS after a tenure of 15 years. Under Green’s leadership, Hacker notes, ISPS has become known for pioneering the application of field experiments modeled on medical science to the realm of American politics.

“With his focus on field experiments, Don has made ISPS more visible in American politics, political science and in the social sciences both within the University and more broadly within the research community,” notes Hacker.

Hacker says he also hopes to bring ISPS “back to its founding roots,” increasing the focus on practical issues and public policy and bringing the social sciences to bear on such “real-world” problems as rising economic inequality, challenges in the energy sector, climate change and financial market transformations.

A close adviser on health care policy to political office holders, including the U.S. president, and often cited as the “architect of the ‘public option’ ” in health care reform, Hacker also aims to position ISPS as a kind of incubator of public policy ideas, with influence among high-ranking policymakers at the seat of power.

“Part of what I’m trying to do is construct some connections between ISPS and Washington think-tanks and public officials who are interested in having conversations about these issues with academics,” he says. As part of that effort, Hacker will build on relationships Yale already has in Washington, sending ISPS researchers to meet with influential policymakers at the nation’s capital and inviting top policy leaders in Washington, D.C., to campus. He is planning to hold a conference on “American Public Policy” at Yale in the fall, and hopes to attract key policy strategists to address an undergraduate course he will be teaching next spring.

Hacker’s most recent book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class,” which he wrote with Paul Pierson (2010), explores the political genesis of rising income inequality and disparity of wealth in the United States. Among other books he has written are “The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream” (2006), “The Divided Welfare State: The Battle Over Public and Private Social Benefits in the United States” (2002) and, with Pierson, “Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy” (2005). His articles have appeared in scholarly journals such as the American Political Science Review and the New England Journal of Medicine as well as in such publications as American Prospect, The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

Most recently, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, he has developed a new index of economic security, the ESI, and is overseeing a new public opinion survey on perceptions of economic insecurity in the United States. In addition, he oversees a Social Science Research Council project on the “privatization of risk” and is vice-president of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

He is currently at work, with Pierson, on a sequel to “Winner-Take-All Politics,” which, he says, explores the downside of unfettered capitalism.