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Public Policy

Public Policy: Why ethics matters

Jonathan Boston
Andrew Bradstock
David Eng
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Public Policy
    Book Description:

    Ethics is a vigorously contested field. There are many competing moral frameworks, and different views about how normative considerations should inform the art and craft of governmental policy making. What is not in dispute, however, is that ethics matters. The ethical framework adopted by policy analysts and decision makers not only shapes how policy problems are defined, framed and analysed, but also influences which ethical principles and values are taken into account and their weighting. As a result, ethics can have a profound impact, both on the character of the policy process and the choices made by decision makers. Public Policy - Why Ethics Matters brings together original contributions from leading scholars and practitioners with expertise in various academic disciplines, including economics, philosophy, physics, political science, public policy and theology. The volume addresses three main issues: fist, the ethical considerations that should inform the conduct of public officials and the task of policy analysis; second, the ethics of climate change; and third, ethics and economic policy. While the contributors have varying views on these important issues, they share a common conviction that the ethical dimensions of public policy need to be better understood and given proper attention in the policy-making process.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-75-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jonathan Boston, Andrew Bradstock and David Eng
  4. Biographies of contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1. Ethics and public policy
    (pp. 1-18)
    Jonathan Boston, Andrew Bradstock and David Eng

    This book is about ethics and public policy. Such a topic immediately raises at least three questions. First, what is ethics? Second, what is public policy? And third, how, and in what ways, are ethics and public policy connected? All three questions have, unsurprisingly, generated large literatures.

    Put simply, ethics is about what we ought to do or ought not to do. That is, it is concerned with what is good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust, or noble and ignoble, and how we can tell the difference. There are many different and often competing ethical frameworks, theories,...

  6. Part I: Ethical foundations of public policy

    • 2. Justice, humanity, and prudence
      (pp. 21-36)
      Tom Campbell

      This chapter examines the concepts of justice, humanity, and prudence in the context of justifying policies, especially policies aimed at reducing global poverty, by which I mean extreme poverty approached as a global issue and requiring the urgent attention of national governments and international organisations. My thesis is that there are good reasons not to classify this matter morally as primarily a matter of global justice; nor, however, should it be considered as based primarily on what is called ʹhumanitarianismʹ, a term that is closely associated with emergency aid in kind. Rather, I suggest, we need to develop and include...

    • 3. Doing ethical policy analysis
      (pp. 37-54)
      Michael Mintrom

      In contemporary society, economic and social processes are shaped by vast numbers of complex and subtle interactions between private, decentralised activities and the activities of governments. Like the demand for many professional services, the demand for policy analysis arises from knowledge gaps. Government decision makers, such as cabinet ministers or councillors, continuously confront public problems for which solutions must be found. Typically, those decision makers adopt new public policies or adjust current policy settings to address the problems at hand. Outside of government, decision makers in many non-governmental organisations also seek policy analysis. Such decision makers rely on policy analysis...

    • 4. The public servant as analyst, adviser, and advocate
      (pp. 55-78)
      David Bromell

      Public servants involved in policy making fulfil at least three distinct functions within Westminster-style parliamentary democracies: those of analyst, adviser, and advocate (cf. Gallagher 1981, pp. 72–3). These functions are not necessarily distinguished by role or position and correspond to the interplay between information, interests, and ideology in public policy making (Weiss 1983).

      This paper explores tensions within and between analysis, advice giving, and advocacy, and proposes that the three functions be distinguished without separation or division. Maintaining appropriate distinctions is, in fact, encouraged in law and by convention, ethical codes of practice, and statements of public sector values....

    • 5. Be careful what you wish for
      (pp. 79-98)
      John Uhr

      This chapter contrasts two competing models of an ethics of office suitable for democratic policy systems.¹ The one I favour is a model of dispersed ethical responsibilities where the precise ethical content varies with the nature of the public office. I label the model I oppose ʹstealth ethicsʹ because it promotes ethical public policy by subverting democratic ethics, which it sees as too conservative. Most conventional policy systems operate somewhere in-between, with mixtures of my favoured pluralism and my disfavoured paternalism. My aim is to nudge policy systems away from paternalism towards pluralism.

      My chapter begins with a general warning...

  7. Part II: Ethics of climate change

    • 6. The most important thing about climate change
      (pp. 101-116)
      John Broome

      The title of this volume – Public Policy: Why ethics matters – is highly significant. Among the protagonists in the debate about public policy in response to climate change, many think ethics is irrelevant. Most of the protagonists are scientists and economists, and they think they need no contribution from moral philosophy. They are wrong.

      Take as an example a criticism directed by the economist Martin Weitzman against The Stern Review (Stern 2007). In comparing the well-being of future generations with our own well-being, Nicholas Stern uses a lower discount rate than many economists do. This means he attaches more...

    • 7. Recognising ethics to help a constructive climate change debate
      (pp. 117-140)
      Andy Reisinger and Howard Larsen

      The design and analysis of public policies related to climate change do not normally make explicit reference to ethical dimensions. Excluding explicit ethics from policy analysis could be seen to provide a more robust and objective basis for public policy, given that ethical principles generally require subjective judgements about which principles should guide decisions. This raises a dilemma in the context of climate change though, where one of the key challenges of public policy making is to achieve a framework that can endure beyond the electoral cycle and that can bridge the large temporal and geographical distances between greenhouse gas...

    • 8. Sharing the responsibility of dealing with climate change: Interpreting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities
      (pp. 141-158)
      Dan Weijers, David Eng and Ramon Das

      According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, unless global collective action on climate change can be achieved, the major threats posed by a rapidly changing climate are likely to have catastrophic effects for all life on Earth (IPCC 2007). Despite the fact all major governments have acknowledged the causal role of anthropogenic emissions in producing rapid global warming,¹ little action has yet been taken to reduce such emissions.

      The best hope for reaching an effective international agreement on climate change is to base it on the widely agreed upon principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), Principle...

    • 9. Virtue and the commons
      (pp. 159-180)
      Xavier Márquez

      Many environmental problems have the familiar structure of the dilemmas of the commons (Gardner et al. 1990), where any given individual may have reason to act in ways that result in the group being collectively worse off when everyone else acts in similar ways, so that recognisably suboptimal outcomes are produced for all if each person acts in accord with their ʹprivateʹ reasons.¹ The climate change problem (Gardiner 2001, 2004), the problems caused by rapid population growth (Hardin 1968), the problems of sustaining fisheries (Ludwig et al. 1993), some problems of agricultural and forest land use, and many other environmental...

  8. Part III: Perspectives on ethics and the economy

    • 10. Tackling economic inequality
      (pp. 183-200)
      Andrew Bradstock

      ʹRecession takes its toll on wealth of Kiwi rich listʹ ran a headline in the Business and Money section of the Otago Daily Times in July 2009 (Hartley 2009). It was a story unlikely to have pulled at readersʹ heartstrings, yet it listed how, according to figures compiled by the National Business Review, in the preceding 12 months $5.7 billion had been lost from the combined wealth of the 155 entrants on the rich list, a fall from $44.4 billion in 2008 to $38.7 billion for 2009. No one, it seems, managed to escape the ravages of the recession, not...

    • 11. Is ethics important for economic growth?
      (pp. 201-226)
      David Rea

      Over the last four decades, living standards in New Zealand have fallen far behind those in Australia. … The Prime Minister has articulated his vision of closing the gap with Australia by 2025. We share that vision. New Zealand has vast potential: strong institutions, hardworking and creative people, a degree of trust and integrity second to none in the world, and abundant natural resources. So of course the gap can be closed. But it wonʹt close of its own accord. And if nothing is done the gap could get worse, with increasingly serious long-term implications for our countryʹs future. Starting...

    • 12. Regulation of financial markets: Panics, moral hazard, and the long-term good
      (pp. 227-256)
      Simon Smelt

      Much of the research relating to the recent events discussed in this chapter is – in academic terms – at an early stage and relatively untested. Hence, this chapter is both provisional and tentative.

      Debate over the causes of the recent financial tsunami and the policies to deal with it will probably continue for decades. There is still considerable disagreement over such matters in relation to the Great Depression.¹ By contrast, the key moral point from recent events – the devastating effects of ʹgreedʹ – might seem self-evident: greed of financiers, greed of investors, perhaps greed of US consumers. Bankers...

    • 13. An alternative reply to the free-rider objection against unconditional citizenship grants
      (pp. 257-276)
      Julia Maskivker

      A powerful objection against unconditional welfare benefits is the so-called ʹfree-rider argumentʹ. This objection is based on considerations of justice. It tells us that it is unjust that some people benefit from the efforts of others without contributing to the common enterprise from which all stand to gain (Elster 1986). This line of accusation is usually directed to left-libertarian defences of stake-holding proposals such as the basic income scheme, which, if sufficiently generous, could substantially relax the necessity to work for a livelihood through a universal, non-means-tested grant. The free-rider objection against unconditional welfare provisions reads like this: why should...

  9. References
    (pp. 277-312)