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Inheritance in Public Policy

Inheritance in Public Policy: Change Without Choice in Britain

Richard Rose
Phillip L. Davies
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Inheritance in Public Policy
    Book Description:

    Although politicians promise innovation and change when they run for office, once elected they face inherited commitments to programs initiated by their predecessors, legacies that severely limit their freedom of choice. In this trail blazing work, Richard Rose and Phillip L. Davies systematically examine the ways in which decisions made by past generations of administrators control policy-making in the present.Basing their conclusions on a unique study of hundreds of public programs in effect in Britain since the end of World War II, Rose and Davies show that the impact of an administration's choices is greatest long after its term is concluded. Even though individual politicians have left office, their agenda is carried forward by the force of political inertia-the laws, public agencies, and budgets in continuing effect and the expectations of beneficiaries.The limited choices that each administration makes are of two very different types. Some reflect careful deliberation over the years and are incorporated in the legacy of successive administrations. Others are trial-and-error attempts to deal with dissatisfaction arising from conditions that often lead to failure. The authors test three theories to account for differences in the persistence of particular types of policy. They conclude that the biggest stimulus for choice (and failure) comes from the turbulence of the market. Social programs are adopted much less often but are much more durable because they concern the enduring needs of families.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16055-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Richard Rose and Phillip L. Davies
  5. 1 Rooted in Time
    (pp. 1-22)

    Policymakers are heirs before they are choosers. Upon taking office in government, an individual must take an oath to uphold the laws of the land. The statute book consists of laws made by past generations yet binding upon each new incumbent. For the moment, at least, a policymaker must accept the legacy of past administrations—and all the constraints that go with it. Policymakers are thus rooted in time.

    An inheritance is not chosen; it is given by history. Past events and past choices create the situation to which policymakers are heirs. Offered a choice between governing an oil-rich nation...

  6. 2 The Legacy of the Past
    (pp. 23-52)

    A new government needs to look backward before it can look forward. As Richard Neustadt and Ernest May argue (1986: 108), the first question to ask is not “What’s the problem?” but “What’s the story?” “That way,” they explain, “one finds out what the problemreallyis.” Very few of the problems facing the government of the day originated during its term of office; they are inherited as a cumulative consequence of past decisions of many administrations. The starting point for incubating a new program is inherited policy. The policy question is usually not “Where do we go?” but “Where...

  7. 3 Programs as Building Blocks
    (pp. 53-82)

    Abstraction is necessary to create theories, but a concept as broad as public policy risks describing everything and therefore nothing. In order to identify the specifics of public policy, the activities of government need to be differentiated. Government (or in European parlance, the state) cannot be reduced to a single attribute; it is a label for a family of concepts. Even though in constitutional form a government may be unitary, in public policy it is not a single actor using a single resource to produce a single undifferentiated output. Instead, government is a conglomerate of institutions producing heterogeneous outputs. As...

  8. 4 The Persistence of a Legacy
    (pp. 83-100)

    Inheritance is inevitable, but it is not necessarily durable. A legacy can be dissipated or transformed rather than merely conserved by those who receive it. Attlee’s description of Winston Churchill emphasizes the ambiguity of inheritance; within an individual, elements from different eras or even different centuries can coexist. The same is true in the manifold of public policy, especially in England, with a continuity of political history extending over many centuries.

    The legacy of the past is an important theme of studies of modern British government. Contemporary policies can be traced to pre-democratic origins. The programmatic foundations of the welfare...

  9. 5 Cumulative Changes in the Legacy
    (pp. 101-121)

    Whereas government is about maintaining continuity, politics is about making choices. Politicians are much more inclined to see their role as introducing new programs than as serving as administrators of programs inherited from predecessors. There are incentives for individual politicians to be seen as active decisionmakers, for doing so can advance their personal political career. After a general election in which control of government changes hands, the new administration expects and is expected to make fresh choices.

    The fact that a large number of programs persist through political inertia does not preclude the government of the day making choices. Logically,...

  10. 6 Do Parties Make a Difference?
    (pp. 122-143)

    Representative government is party government. The choices of voters are not translated directly into public policies; parties aggregate preferences and modify them to reflect their own interests and values. The party winning a general election not only sits in a house of power but also expects to use that power to make choices about public policy. Insofar as parties differ in their political priorities, then the choice of programs should shift when there is a change in the party in power.

    The British Constitution gives the governing party great scope for choice. The government of the day can be confident...

  11. 7 Economic Constraints on the Scope for Choice
    (pp. 144-167)

    Politics is meant to be a happy art. Politicians want to be identified with what is popular, and spending money on the “good” goods and services that government provides, such as education, health care, and social security benefits. This is much more popular than refusing demands for new and popular programs. If politicians had their choice, the economy would always be booming, for economic growth makes it possible to enjoy “policy without pain” (Heclo, 1981:397).

    Economics is often known as the dismal science, because no program is free of costs; these costs must be met by taxation, borrowing, an inflationary...

  12. 8 Program Goals and Policy Environment
    (pp. 168-184)

    Programs matter because two-fifths of the gross national product is collectively spent on hundreds of measures intended to benefit individuals, groups, and society collectively. Ordinary people expect public policy to provide education for their children, health care when sick, and a secure income in old age or unemployment. Employers and workers want government to provide conditions in which the economy can flourish. Everyone looks to government to maintain law and order at home and security in a troubled world.

    Insofar as a democratic government is meant to provide people with what they want, then programs should be consistently popular, and...

  13. 9 Why Programs Matter
    (pp. 185-220)

    Programs differ in their purposes; some face backwards in time and others are directed at current dissatisfactions or the future. The inheritance of each new administration contains many programs that will remain in the legacy that it leaves to its successors, and some that will soon be terminated. What accounts for the difference between these two types of programs?

    Since inheritance emphasizes the importance of the past, a systematic analysis of the evolution of the program concerns of modern states since the mid-nineteenth century offers an appropriate basis for differentiating programs (Rose, 1976). By the end of World War II,...

  14. 10 Change without Choice
    (pp. 221-242)

    The short-term effects of the inheritance of public policy are stabilizing, but the cumulative effect is destabilizing. More than two millennia ago Aristotle described the flaw in the politician’s sophistical claim that short-term choices had no long-term consequences: in the fullness of time seemingly small annual changes add up to big changes. This is true in Britain—in almost half a century since the end of World War II the total number of programs has more than doubled, and program expenditure has more than quadrupled—and throughout the oecd world.

    The pervasive public policy issue of the 1990s—the deficit...

  15. References
    (pp. 243-254)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 255-257)