Theories of Public Policy
Public policy is usually seen as the specific behavior of some actor(s). It could be an official, or a government agency, or a legislator, in an aspect of activity like a public enterprise or poverty alleviation. The study of public policy has become one of the main subjects of studies in the modern world. It covers w wide range of studies, including economics and political science. A major definition of public policy is that it's whatever the government chooses to do or not to do.
This definition may not be enough to discern ordinary discourse and not enough for the systematic analysis of public policy. This means there need for a more in-depth definition to structure out thinking and ensure effective communication between individuals (Anderson, 1997). Even so, there is a lot of common reference point by the user from different situations. And this is why it is seen as the decision of governments to meet its citizens' needs.
Public policy can be seen as what the government intends to do to achieve certain goals. Unfortunately, this definition has a huge limitation as it makes public policy seem like a mere decision. It makes public policy seem like a simple declaration of intentions, wishes, principles, or expression of desires. These aspects are important to people, but they cannot be defined as public policy, which means it should be the actual resource allocation given out by projects and programs used in response to public issues and demands. This is the same definition used by political scientists, James E. Anderson, who describes the public policy as a more stable, purpose-oriented course of action an actor needs to follow while trying to deal with a matter of concern (Anderson, 1997). Based on this statement, we can say that public policy focuses on what is actually done, more than just the intended purpose.
Public policy is, therefore, the policy developed and implemented by the government agency and officials. However, non-state actors and factors may influence the process.
The scope and content of public policy vary from country to country, depending on the government. In developed countries, much is expected from their governments, and government action touches virtually every part of their citizenry. In this case, public policy is viewed as a vital aspect of governance. Sometimes even less developed countries face similar issues where governments are expected to explain their courses of action.
This definition and understanding of public policy are not enough to understand its impacts. It is even more important for economic students to take a deeper look at the policy. Traditional study of public policy majorly focused on pollical science. In other words, scholars and pollical science students were the only people involved more in their studies, in which case they sort to justify government actions. Today, public policy is a wider subject, that has developed into its own discipline. As an economy student, you will face many situations where government actions have been used to define certain issues and problems in an economy.
Therefore, a deeper understanding of public policy is needed across disciplines. One way scholars follow to a deeper understanding of this subject is through models and theories. We shall, therefore, be looking at several theories of public policy for a better understanding. Note that public policy is a significant aspect of creating a functional economy. It has, therefore, become a critical subject of study in microeconomics.
The first theory that explains public policy is the Elite Theory, a model that states that contrary to the understanding the pluralism has an in-built mechanism for in ensuring equity of power and influence in a society, the truth is, public policy is majorly reflection of the ruling elite's interest. In other words, public policy does not seek to serve the majority public's interests, but those of the few in top positions. According to Vilfredo Pareto, in his book, "Mind and Society," those with ability seek to confirm their social positions. Generally, the elite are divided into two groups, the governing and the non-governing, but they all possess enough influence on supreme leadership, whereas the bulk of the masses population is there to be ruled.
Gaetano Mosca, in his work, "The Ruling Class," posted that Oligarchy is the only type of government that has existed in the history of man. He regularly argued that societies, even the most developed ones, are yet to attain true civilization. And even the most civilized ones are defined by two classes of people. The first group is always the few who perform political functions, monopolizes power, and enjoy the reaping from such power. The second group is more numerous and is destined to stay under the rule of the first group.
Mosca continues to state theta the minority is usually composed of superior individuals, and the fact that they are few makes it easy for them to be more organizes. He continues further that elites' circulation, once the ruling class loses its ability to command and show political command, and those not in the ruling class, or develop its aptitude, they will cast aside the old class and assume control. He also seems to have a strong belief in the role of the middle class in society.
The few in power always determine economic decisions. The elites have more control over the economic output of every nation. The middle class is labeled as 'sub-elite.' That stability of any political organization also depends on the intelligence and activities of this second group. Nicholas Henry states that the elite model is more applicable to Public administrators. The model has also found more water in with sociologists and political scientists.
Another important model describing public policy is the group theory of politics, which states that public policy is a result of the group struggle. In other words, what we know as public policy is the state of equilibrium reached in the group struggle at any given time. It is a representation of a balance, which the contending faction or groups attempt to win in their favor. Anderson, 1997, states that many public policies are a reflection of groups.
In simple terms, group models take into account the interaction among groups as the most important aspect of politics. As you may already know, the political is the stability of a country determines its political prowess to a large extent. In this case, the interaction and relationship among groups play a critical role in the economy's general success. There is a constant change in the locus of power within a society, which depends on the group that succeeds in showing its own supremacy.
The power dominate policy decision depends on group solidarity and power. This means the policy process dynamics are expected to be more pronounced in plural societies than in the homogenous ones. In these societies, a group's ability to bend the policy depends on several factors, including wealth, organizational skill, leadership quality, bargaining skill, access to decision-makers, and a modicum of luck. Wealth is mostly because political mobilization requires a lot of resources. Politics is an expensive venture, even in the most democratic societies. But one needs organization and other skills mentioned above that helps them come up with convincing ideas.
Group theory has faced a lot of criticism from different scholars and stakeholders. First, it is argued that this model's theorists did not clearly define the terms meant by 'group' and 'interest.' The definitions given do not tell that a group is really important to politics and decision making. This also means it may not be very relevant to economic processes. Secondly, the theory was concerned more about groups, leaving out the role of individuals who make all the differences.
The system theory is an idea of pollical science that originates with David Easton, a reputed scholarly who analyzed politics from the systems perspective. His work has been highly appreciated among many scholars. His work was regarded as the foundation of the behaviorist revolution in political science. Varma states that Easton managed to distill the important behaviorism features, including regularities, verification, techniques, values, systemization, pure science, and integration. These characteristics are not unique to systems theory, but they form a natural link between systems thinking and behaviorism (Obi et al., 2008).
The systems theory has been very useful in the study of public policy. It perceives public policy as the response of the political system to demands from the environment. A political system is made up of different institutions that make an authoritative allocation of values binding on the whole society. As seen above, anything that affects political stability touches the general economy of a nation. However, this usefulness is limited to its highly general and abstract nature. Also, it does not say a lot about the procedures and processes that determine decision making and policy. Nevertheless, it can be used in organizing inquiry into policy formation.
The study of government majorly revolves around political science and public administration. This has been a major concern since the institutions include legislatures, executives, and the judiciary. And public policy authoritative formulated and executed by these institutions. The institutional approach's traditional orientation concentrates on the description of more formal and legal aspects of government institutions. It focused on their formal structure, legal power, and procedural rules and functions. Also, formal links with other institutions can be considered, including legislative-executive relations.
Social scientists and put their attention in teaching and research of political processes in governments and political institutions. Their main focus was on the behavior of those involved in the process and political realities, more than formalism. Institutionalism emphasizes formal or structural aspects of institutions, which can be useful in policy analysis. Institutional structures, arrangements, and procedures have always played a vital role in public policy's adoption and content. This is why it needs to be considered along with other aspects of an economy, especially since it is a crucial policymaking concept. This model looks at the official structures and functions of government departments and institutions as it attempts to learn public policy. The institutional approach is more static formalistic. Thomas Dye points out that this approach can be very useful for those concerned with the shape of public policy.
There are limited changes or additions to the existing policies, which form the foundation of incremental decisions. For instance, a government gives a small increase to the ministry of education's budget or tightens the business requirements. These are already policies in place, only that they receive a little addition, just to make them seem better. The approach takes into consideration the less than circumstances under which administrators make decisions. The real limits existing in terms of time, brains, money, and other aspects can be ignored.
This model is associated with Charles Lindblom, who contents that incrementalism is more the real policymaking approach for pluralist societies. In this case, decisions and policies are the output of give-and-take mutual agreements between involved parties. It is often easier to reach an agreement when matters in the dispute among groups are limited to modification of the existing programs. The approach has also been met with several criticisms. For instance, it is seen as too conservative and focused on the current order. As such, it becomes a barrier to innovation, which is needed when making important policy decisions.
The rational-choice, or social-choice, public-choice, a formal theory is a model that came with economists. It involves the application of principles of microeconomic theory to analyze and explain political behaviors. Human beings are rational beings and make market and non-market decisions based on this characteristic. Anthony Down's book, Economic Theory of Democracy, is perhaps the best use case of this theory.
The approach is constructed on economic principles such as cost-benefit study. Policy-makers always consider the value preference in the current society and assign each relative weight. They will then look at alternative policies, know their costs, and select the best alternative that is more beneficial to society.
The rational model has such an appealing simplicity, but there are problems with its implementations. For example, it does not have explicit concern for the political environment. It has also faced objection for its bias towards efficiency and the exclusion o7f other values. Nevertheless, it creates a good foundation for policymaking.
Author: James Hamilton