Public Policy

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Theoretical Models of Public Policymaking

     The "Policy Process Theory" just described is a good model to describe public policymaking, but it has little explanatory power. In other words, you cannot make predictions from this model. It simply states that a policy first begins on an agenda, it is then formulated, adopted, implemented and evaluated. But it has no theoretical framework to allow one to predict how a policy ends up on the agenda, or if a policy will be adopted.      The "Political Systems Theory" is another descriptive model which treats the government like an organism which responds to inputs and stimuli and creates outputs. The inputs are demands and support. These go through a filter, enter the government system, are processed into public policy and then the results feedback as an input.      This theory does contain a few prediction capabilities from the fact that this model implies that the purpose of government is to survive. Yet it treats government like a box, that simply processes inputs neutrally, implying that all of the important decisions and bargaining happen outside of government in the environment. Thus, the "Policy Process Theory" is a much better descriptive model of how policymaking occurs.      There are a few models which have much better explanatory power, and allow for much more prediction. Yet they all have their flaws, and must be used carefully when used to make predictions.      "Group theory" (pluralists) assumes the following is true for public policymaking: (1) most demands and supports for policy are manifest through organized groups; (2) no single group can monopolize power; (3) the most influential group will be decided by the amount of competition and the qualities of the competing groups; (4) policy results from compromise; (5) political actors are objective referees who state which group won.      However, this theory overstates the importance of groups and ignores the role that public officials play in policymaking. Some policies are made by judges (with no dominant group winning), and the President has great influence over what policy areas are given attention. Additionally, not all interests are represented by groups and a few groups do monopolize the influence over some policy areas (for example, the American Medical Association).      Thus, many of the premises of "Group Theory" can be challenged, yet the model does focus attention on the importance of interest groups in the policy process. It also allows for predicting policy outcomes by evaluating the groups involved. For example, if a policy on the agenda is supported by a well-organized, well-lead interest group with little competition, this theory says that that policy has a good chance of being approved.      Another explanatory theory is the "Elite Theory" which says that society is stratified with the masses at the bottom and a ruling-class elite at the top. These elites are the rich and well-educated, who share common beliefs and use their influence to dictate public policies. The most serious flaw in this theory is that no such ruling-class can be identified. Yet, if this class could be found, then any policy which went against this class could be predicted to fail. This theory also focuses attention on the role of leadership in policymaking.      Rational-choice theory argues that policymakers pursue their own self-interest instead of any national-interest. They also vote based upon their own goals instead of for any other reason. Anderson gives the example of a politician who will approve of an agency which will trouble his constituents so that he can help them out and get re-elected. This model alerts us to the importance of self-interest in policymaking. If voting for a policy will hurt a politician on election day, then this model allows us to predict that the politician will not vote for it.      The principal-agent theory was originally used to show the relationship between management (the...
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