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PA 598 Public Policy. The Challenges of Problem Definition. Where we started. A basic overview of problem definition A basic overview of the policy process. The institutional aspects of policy process. The constitutional order The official actors The unofficial actors The bottom line:

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Pa 598 public policy l.jpg

PA 598 Public Policy

The Challenges of Problem Definition

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Where we started

  • A basic overview of problem definition

  • A basic overview of the policy process

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The institutional aspects of policy process

  • The constitutional order

  • The official actors

  • The unofficial actors

  • The bottom line:

    • Many different institutions are involved in policy making

    • American politics is characterized by group politics

    • Groups are motivated by interests

    • Interests motivate the search for problems and solutions

    • There is nothing wrong with interest! Interest is the motivating factor behind politics.

      • The question is this: what are yourinterests? How do you know?

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Basic Aspects of Problem Definition (Bardach)

  • Dos:

    • Think of deficits and excesses (too much, too little)

    • Make it evaluative—that is, “why is this a public problem?” Think about “market failure”

  • Don’ts

    • Do not define the solution into the problem.

    • The problem statement should kick off a range of discussions of solutions

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What are the assumptions of markets?

  • Individual transactions

  • Perfect information

  • The sum of transactions equals net social benefit

  • Transactions are mutually agreed upon

  • Both parties are beneficiaries of the transaction

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Types of market failures

  • When some individuals get benefits and others don’t, or when benefits are disproportionate

  • When transactions are coerced

  • When there is imperfect information

  • When a type of transactions leads to net social detriments

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So, public problems exist in market failure when

  • It is hard to collect funds from beneficiaries

  • It is hard to account for externalities

  • It is hard know the real qualities of services (imperfect information)

  • The marginal cost of production is lower than the average cost (do you agree??)

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There are other kinds of problems

  • Breakdown of systems, such a families

  • Low living standards for some people because of labor market effects

  • Racial and gender discrimination

  • Failure of government to act where it is supposed to.

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Bardach thinks about market failure

  • “It is impossible to underestimate the importance of [market failures], for in most—though not all—situations where no market failures can be identified, people’s private troubles cannot typically be ameliorated by even the most well intentioned government intervention.”

  • Do you agree?

  • Is there a line where government must or should not cross no matter what “benefits” might result?

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Persuasion: Issue Rhetoric

  • “[Y]ou have to get beyond the rhetoric to define a problem that is analytically manageable and that makes sense in light of the political and institutional means available for mitigating it.” What does this mean?

  • Issue rhetoric is highly partisan or ideological

  • The phrasing of problems often reveals the ideological dimensions of the problem, not its technical aspects

    • Are you trying to campaign, or to govern?

    • Is there a difference?

  • Issue labels (“teen pregnancy”) may relate to multiple conditions

  • Issue rhetoric relies on symbols

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  • “A thing that stands for something else”

  • What are some common symbols in our country and society?

  • people use symbols to describe problems

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Types of symbolic stories

  • Narrative stories (anecdotes)

    • Synecdoche

    • Government run amok

  • Stories of decline or of progress halted

  • Stories of helplessness and control

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Causal stories

  • Stories about how bad things happen

  • The goal of various interests is to tell the causal story that works for them.

  • Examples of causal stories

    • Airplane crashes and other mechanical problems

    • Stories of crime and poverty

    • Stories of decline and failure (example: the economic mess we are in)

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Numbers as indicators of problems

  • John Kingdon talks about indicators as one of two ways issues reach the agenda.

    • The other way is focusing events

  • Using numbers is one way to tell a causal story

  • Deciding to count a phenomenon is a policy decision itself.

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Issue Rhetoric and Policy Paradox: Deborah Stone

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Why did I assign policy paradox?

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The Market and the Polis

  • How can we model the ways societies organize to act politically?

  • We will go through this because I want you to understand the important features of her argument.

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What is a market?

  • “A social system in which individuals pursue their own welfare by exchanging things with others whenever trades are mutually beneficial.

  • Is this a good description of how politics works in the United States and other democracies?

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Review: What are the assumptions of a market system

  • Individual interest and benefit

  • One to one exchanges

  • Perfect information

  • Mutual benefit (not a zero sum game)

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Why we reject the market as a model for politics and policy making

  • Because markets are not about the public interest

  • Because politics and policy making is often not voluntary

  • Because there is rarely good information available to all in politics

  • Because one doesn’t need community for market exchanges

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Thus, the polis

  • From the Greek word for “city-state”

  • It is also the root of our words “politics” and “policy”

  • Stone uses it to mean a relatively small political community, although the example works at a larger scale as well.

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What Are the Important Features of a Political Community?

  • Community

  • Public Interest

  • Commons Problems

  • Influence

  • Loyalty

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What Are the Important Features of a Political Community?

  • Groups

  • Information

  • Passion

  • Power

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Concepts of Society

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Concepts of Society

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Concepts of Society

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Deborah Stone's four goals of public policy

  • Equity or Equality

  • Efficiency

  • Security

  • Liberty

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  • There are different kinds of equality

  • These are based on

    • The recipients of a public good

    • The item that is being distributed

    • And the process by which the thing is distributed

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Eight different kinds of equity

  • Equal Slices but Unequal Invitations

    • To get an equal slice one has to be a part of the community—that is, invited into it.

    • Example: community college for illegal immigrants

  • Equal slices for equal ranks, but unequal slices for unequal ranks

    • Where does this sort of thing make sense?

  • Unequal slices but equal blocs

    • Is it possible to make sure that blacks guaranteed a slice of the cake that is greater than their share of the population suggests?

    • What would this accomplish?

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Eight different kinds of equity

  • Unequal slices but equal meals

    • This suggests some sort of compensation for a past wrong (recent, in Stone’s example).

  • Unequal slices but equal value to recipients

    • “Why do poor or minority people or women need to make lots of money? Since they’re poor, less money means as much to them as more money would to a white male.”

    • This is often used as a justification for low wages in developing nations. And it might be sensible—think about expectations..

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Eight Different Kinds of Equity

  • Unequal slices but equal starting resources

    • What is the challenge here?

  • Unequal slices but equal statistical chances

    • This would be like a lottery for a job, all other things being equal.

    • How might this approach alleviate the problems of racial discrimination in hiring?

    • What problems would this create?

  • Unequal slices but equal votes

    • Have minorities long had equal votes?

    • Do votes make much difference in larger group than a classroom?

    • One might have an equal vote, but what if your group or bloc is outnumbered?

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Next: Efficiency

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  • What is efficiency?

    • “Getting the most output for a given input”

    • “Achieving an objective for the lowest cost”

  • Efficiency is not an end goal; it is a means to an end

  • It is very difficult to measure efficiency in the public sector or in politics in general. Why?

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    What are the inputs?

    • Labor

    • Materials

    • Expertise

    • Other intangibles?

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    What are the outputs?

    • Products

    • Services

    • Values?

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    The market is often held up as the paragon of efficiency

    • Thus, there are many calls for privatizing government

    • We often hear calls to run government like a business.

    • Knowing what you know about the market and polis, why are these demands unrealistic?

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    What characterizes a market?

    • Voluntary exchanges of things of value

    • Based on two kinds of information

      • Objective information about the price and quality of an item

      • Subjective information about preferences

      • Does this information really exist?

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    Can Government every really look like a market?

    • Government often regulates the market, by regulating who or what can buy or sell what products

    • Government often compels involuntary exchanges: drafts labor for the army, taxes us for things we may not individually want, etc.

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    Market failure

    • Governments have to step in when markets fail; i.e., when these assumptions lead to allocative inefficiency or gross inequity.

    • Examples

      • Correction of monopoly

      • Correction of problems of information

      • Problems of impacts on people who are not making the exchange.

      • Failure to provide collective goods (national defense, police)

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    Thus, government is often involved in

    • Alleviating the inefficiencies of the market

    • Providing goods inefficiently because there is no market way to do so

    • Imposing requirements for equity on the market, thereby introducing inefficiency.

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    To conclude, then, government cannot run like a business because

    • It is not a business: it is composed of citizens and voters, not buyers, sellers and producers

    • It engages in those activities that are not profitable by definition

    • It is difficult to measure inputs and outputs in government.

    • One person’s efficiency may be the next person’s gross inequity.

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    The Stone Example: Efficiency in a Public Library

    • How many different ways are there to think about efficiency in the library

    • Are there other areas of government that should be made more efficient?

    • Are there good political and policy reasons why these activities are not efficient?

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    Liberty and Security

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    Ideas on liberty

    • People are free to unless their actions cause some sort of harm to others

    • This idea derives from J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty”

    • This freedom is negative freedom, meaning that government should just let people do what they want and leave them alone

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    Four important elements

    • The rationale for government interference: harm to others

    • The ability to distinguish between harmful and harmless behavior (victimless behavior)

    • Liberty as an attribute of individuals

    • Liberty is defined negatively, in terms of government noninterference—people are free from things instead of being free to do something.

    • This is viewed as being a better way of defining freedom. Why?

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    But what does harm mean?

    • No one is free to physically harm another person

    • But what about other types of harms?

      • Accidents

      • Pollution

      • Mistakes

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    Nonphysical harms

    • Material affects: impact on wealth or well-being

    • Amenity affects: impact on quality of life, such as billboards, destruction of wildlife

    • Emotional and psychological effects

    • Spiritual and moral harms

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    Harms to the community

    • Structural harms: damage to the ability of the community to function as a community

    • Accumulative harms: harms if everybody starts doing it, like cutting across lawns, sewage dumping, jaywalking

    • Harms to a group that result from harms to individuals: racial discrimination, for example.

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    Tradeoffs between liberty and security

    • The problem of dependence

      • If we provide economic security to the poor and the unemployed, do we grant them security at the cost of their liberty (i.e., their freedom of action)?

      • If we value liberty, we place security in the hands of the family or household, thereby eliminating government intrusion

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    Tradeoffs between liberty and security

    • If we value security, we grant greater powers to government (and society) to make us secure, at the risk of becoming dependent and less free as government becomes more and more able to intrude in our private lives.

    • Thus, “the history of the 20th century welfare state is largely a story of gradually expanding right for people dependent on the state” (Stone), but does that mean that these people are really free? No, says Austin Sarat, who would argue that the welfare poor are trapped in a legal/bureaucratic tangle that does not grant much freedom.

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    The problem of paternalism

    • “When, if ever, should government prevent people from acting voluntarily in a way that harms themselves? In other words, should government curtail liberty in order to promote security?” (Stone) Mill says “never!”

    • Exception: people are not free to enter into contracts to enslave themselves--although that is more or less what the courts in this country ruled around the turn of the century.

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    We do allow paternalism for certain classes of people

    • Children, by definition

    • Mentally ill, sick, etc.

    • Dworkin’s Ulysses Contract: justified “whenever a rational person would consent in advance to restrain himself in some way” (Stone) Problem of actual vs imputed wishes

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    The Liberty/Equality Tradeoff

    • People have different talents, skills etc.; thus, the government should equalize these resources.

    • This is positive liberty,not negative liberty, and makes many American uncomfortable

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    The “antidote” to Issue Rhetoric: Quantification

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    Indicators symbolize problems, but they are not the problem itself

    • The Gross Domestic Product

    • The Census

    • Tests like the SAT

    • In statistics we call this the validity problem

    • Is the statistic the best measure of the underlying problem?

    • Choices of statistics matter--for example, the mean and the median

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    • You have made excellent progress thus far, given that…

      • Problem definition is very difficult; and

      • The more you learn about a problem, the more it changes over time.

        • Example: my research on the Stafford Act and Hurricane Katrina.

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    Workshop: Finding Statistical Information

    • People

    • Economy

      • Output

      • Wealth

      • Income

    • Environment

    • Education

      • Educational attainment

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    Let’s start with the economy

    • United States

      • Employment

      • Output

    • The southeast

      • Employment

      • Output

    • North Carolina

    • Wake County (or Metro Raleigh)

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    Information on the Economy in the United States

    • Statistical abstract of the United States


    • Gross Domestic Product


    • Gross state and regional product


    • Census information

    • North Carolina information

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