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Studying Public Policy*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2009

Richard Simeon
Queen's University


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Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 1976

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1 For a discussion of recent developments in this direction in the Canadian federal government, see Doern, G. Bruce, “The Development of Policy Organizations in the Executive Arena,” in Doern, and Aucoin, Peter, eds., The Structures of Policy-Making in Canada (Toronto, 1971), 3878.Google Scholar See also Robertson, Gordon, “The Changing Role of the Privy Council Office,” Canadian Public Administration 14 (Winter 1971), 487508CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Johnson, A.W., “The Treasury Board of Canada and the Machinery of Government in the 1970's,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 4 (September 1971), 346–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also several of the contributions to Hockin, Thomas, ed., Apex of Power (Scarborough, Ont., 1971).Google Scholar

2 See, among others, Bell, Daniel, “The Public Household – On ‘Fiscal Sociology’ and the Liberal Society,” The Public Interest 34 (Winter 1974), 2968Google Scholar; King, Anthony, “Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970's,” Political Studies XXIII (June-September 1975), 284–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; O'Connor, James, The Fiscal Crisis of the State (New York, 1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Rose, Richard, “Overloaded Government,” European Studies Newsletter V (December 1975), 1318.Google Scholar

3 One embarks on yet another review of the literature and presentation of a framework with some trepidation. Should we not actually get on and do the research, rather than endlessly talk about how to do it? I hope, however, the paper does break some new ground both in its formulation of the problems and in its attention to the Canadian case. Among the better recent assessments of the field are: Ranney, Austin, ed., Political Science and Public Policy (Chicago, 1969)Google Scholar; Rose, Richard, “Comparing Public Policy: An Overview,” European Journal of Political Research 1 (1973), 6794CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Heclo, Hugh, “Review Article: Policy Analysis,” British Journal of Political Science 2 (January 1972), 83108CrossRefGoogle Scholar; King, Anthony, “Ideas, Institutions and the Policies of Governments: A Comparative Analysis,” Parts I–III, British Journal of Political Science 3 (July and October 1973), 291313 and 409–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Public Policy-Making Re-examined (San Francisco, 1968). See also Jantsch, Erich, “From Forecasting and Planning to Policy Sciences,” Policy Sciences I (Spring 1970), 31–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and other articles in the same issue. For a Canadian example, see Economic Council of Canada, Eighth Annual Review, Design for Decision-Making (Ottawa, 1971).Google Scholar A good critique is found in Doern, G. Bruce, Political Policy-Making: A Review of the Economic Council's Eighth Annual Review and the Ritchie Report (Montreal, 1972).Google Scholar

5 “Review of Ranney and Dror,” American Political Science Review 63 (1969), 918

6 The Policy-Making Process (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968), 20–1 and chap. 9

7 For a discussion of varieties of public goods, see Steiner, Peter O., “The Public Sector and the Public Interest,” in Havemann, Robert and Margolis, Julius, eds., Public Expenditures and Policy Analysis (Chicago, 1970), 2158.Google Scholar The classic definition is that of Samuelson, Paul, “The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure,” Review of Economics and Statistics 36 (1954), 387–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Jacob, Herbert and Lipsky, Michael, “Outputs, Structure and Power,” Journal of Politics XXX (May 1968), 510CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 This is true even of the best such studies, for example, Bryden, Kenneth, Old Age Pensions and Policy-Making in Canada (Montreal, 1974).Google Scholar

10 For example, Hawkins, Freda, Canada and Immigration: Public Policy and Public Concern (Montreal, 1972)Google Scholar

11 Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston, 1971)

12 London, 1970

13 “The Categorization of Policy Contents,” in Ranney, Political Science and Public Policy, 43

14 Smith, Denis, “President and Parliament: The Transformation of Parliamentary Government in Canada,” in Kruhlak, Orest et al., eds, The Canadian Political Process (Toronto, 1970), 367–82Google Scholar

15 Doern, G. Bruce, “The Policy-Making Philosophy of Prime Minister Trudeau and his Advisers,” in Hockin, Thomas, ed., Apex of Power (Scarborough, Ont., 1971)Google Scholar; Doern, “The Development of Policy Organizations in the Executive Arena,” in Doern and Aucoin, Structures of Policy-Making, 39–78; Aucoin, Peter and French, Richard, Knowledge, Power and Public Policy, Science Council of Canada, Background Study No. 31 (Ottawa, 1974)Google Scholar

16 Doern, G. Bruce and Wilson, V.S., eds., Issues in Canadian Public Policy (Toronto, 1974).Google Scholar

17 The literature is cited and assessed in: Tompkins, Gary, “A Causal Model of State Welfare Expenditures,” Journal of Politics 37 (May 1975), 392416CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rakoff, Stuart and Schaefer, Guenther, “Politics, Policy and Political Science: Some Theoretical Alternatives,” Politics and Society I (1970), 5177CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fenton, John H. and Chamberlayne, Richard, “The Literature Dealing with the Relationships between Political Processes, Socioeconomic Conditions and Public Policies in the American States,” Polity I (Spring 1969), 388404CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dye, Thomas R., Understanding Public Policy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972)Google Scholar, chap. 11. For another thorough critique, see Munns, Joyce M., “The Environment, Politics and Policy Literature,” Western Political Quarterly XXVIII (December 1975), 646–67.Google Scholar

18 See Pryor, Frederic, Public Expenditures in Communist and Capitalist Nations (London, 1968)Google Scholar; Aaron, Henry, “Social Security: International Comparisons,” in Eckstein, Otto, ed., Studies in the Economics of Income Maintenance (Washington, 1967), 1438Google Scholar; Paukert, Felix, “Social Security and Income Redistribution,” International Labour Review 98 (November 1968), 425–50Google Scholar; Taira, Koji and Kilby, Peter, “Differences in Social Security Development in Selected Countries,” International Social Security Review 22 (1969), 139–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19 Simeon, Richard, Federal-Provincial, Diplomacy (Toronto, 1972)Google Scholar

20 “Policy Analysis,” 97–104. See also the essays in Margolis, Julius, ed., The Analysis of Public Output (New York, 1970).Google Scholar

21 Quade, E.S., “Why Policy Sciences?Policy Sciences I (Spring 1970), 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar

22 Policy Sciences, 137. See also Rowan, Malcolm, “A Conceptual Framework for Government Policy-Making,” Canadian Public Administration XIII (Autumn 1970), 277–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23 “Process and Policy as Focal Concepts,” in Ranney, Political Science and Public Policy, 35

24 “The Political Economy of Growth,” in Ranney, Political Science and Public Policy, 59. See also his “Cost-Benefit Analysis, Systems Analysis and Program Budgeting,” Public Administration Review XXVI (1966), 292–310.

25 For a conception of political culture which stresses the assumed or taken for granted character of cultural factors, see Elkins, David and Simeon, Richard, “A Cause in Search of its Effect, or What Does Political Culture Explain?” unpublished paper, 1975.Google Scholar

26 Good examples of such an approach are Nelles, H.V., The Politics of Development (Toronto, 1974)Google Scholar, and Manzer, Ronald, “Public Policies in Canada: A Development Perspective,” paper presented to the Canadian Political Science Association, Edmonton, June 1975, mimeo.Google Scholar

27 The Growth of Public Spending in Canada (Toronto, 1970), 137

28 Thus the Canadian Tax Foundation estimates that only 31 per cent of federal expenditure could be seen as “controllable” by Parliament. The National Finances, 1974–75 (Toronto, 1975), 1–6.

29 There is an interesting imbalance in the political science literature generally: increasing sophistication and clarity in the specification and measurement of the independent variables, combined with continued lack of attention to what these high-powered tools are explaining.

30 “Political Science and Public Policy: A Review Essay,” Policy Sciences 2 (Summer 1971), 321

31 CIL Ltd, A Digest of Environmental Pollution Legislation in Canada (Ottawa, 1970)Google Scholar

32 The National Finances, 1971–72 (Toronto, 1972), 79

33 “Environment, Policy, Output and Impact,” in Sharkansky, , ed., Policy Analysis in Political Science (Chicago, 1970), 6179Google Scholar

34 “On Studying the Impacts of Public Policies: The Role of the Political Scientist,” in Holden, Matthew and Dresang, Dennia, eds, What Government Does, Sage Yearbooks in Politics and Public Policy, Vol. 1 (Beverley Hills, 1975), 298316Google Scholar

35 See Aucoin and French, Knowledge, Power and Public Policy, chap. 1.

36 See Manzer, “Public Policies in Canada,” for an example of such inferences.

37 See Lewis Froman, “The Categorization of Policy Contents,” in Ranney, Political Science and Public Policy.

38 A Strategy for Decision (New York, 1963)

39 Lowi's typology, in various formulations, occurs in several places. See “American Business, Public Policies, Case Studies and Political Theory,” World Politics XVI (July 1964); and “Decision-Making versus Policy-Making: Towards an Antidote for Technocracy,” Public Administration Review (May–June 1970), 314–25.

40 This is because, in an objective sense, virtually all expenditure policies are redistributive: to the extent that one group gets a benefit there is less to give to other groups. However, one group's gain may not be perceived as another's loss, especially in a system with a large and expanding pie, with a political style which emphasizes log-rolling, and with a fragmented decision structure, in which taxing and spending decisions are taken separately, and decisions in one area are made without reference to others. For a reformulation of Lowi's categories in this direction, see Robert H. Salisbury, “The Analysis of Public Policy: A Search for Theories and Roles,” in Ranney, Political Science and Public Policy, 151–75.

41 Lowi, “Decision-Making versus Policy-Making”

42 There are several problems with the authoritativeness criterion. Most important is the fact that decisions by some private actors, for example, Imperial Oil, may effectively be just as authoritative as governmental decisions. See Nadel, Mark, “The Hidden Dimension of Public Policy: Private Governments and the Policy-Making Process,” Journal of Politics 37 (February 1975), 234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On the other hand, governments’ ability to command compliance is being increasingly questioned. Thus King points out that government may be becoming “merely one among a number of contenders for wealth, power and influence, the others including large companies, trade unions and their members, foreign companies, foreign governments and international organizations.” See “Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970's,” 295. Nevertheless, the term does seem to capture an essential difference between governmental and non-governmental acts, and so will be retained here, although the need to study the public effects of private decisions is not denied.

43 Bird, The Growth of Public Spending, provides the best summary and critique of explanations for the growth of government, especially those provided by economists.

44 O'Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State. This is an important and sophisticated Marxist analysis of the state. Bell adopts some central aspects of the thesis, though within an entirely different normative framework, in “The Public Household.”

45 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Expenditure Trends in OECD Countries (Paris, 1972), 67Google Scholar

46 Sharkansky, Ira, Spending in the American States (Chicago, 1968), 110–11Google Scholar

47 Rudolf Goldscheid, quoted in Bell, “The Public Household,” 30

48 See Nelles, Politics of Development, for a superb discussion of these activities at the provincial level. Using O'Connors category of “economic development” spending, about a quarter of Canadian federal spending in 1967 was on economic development, compared with only 11 per cent for the US federal government.

49 Bruce Doern defines the content of policy as “means.” See “The Concept of Regulation and Regulatory Reform,” in Doern and Wilson, Issues in Canadian Public Policy, 12.

50 James T. Bonnen, “The Absence of Knowledge of Distributional Effects: An Obstacle to Effect Policy Analysis and Decisions,” in Havemann and Margolis, The Economics of Income Maintenance, 246–70

51 Washington, 1973. For Canada, see Maslove, Allan M., The Pattern of Taxation in Canada (Ottawa, 1972).Google Scholar

52 “Public Expenditures and Policy Analysis: an Overview,” in Havemann, and Margolis, , Public Expenditures and Policy Analysis (Chicago, 1970), 120Google Scholar

53 For a very good discussion of some of the necessary assumptions and difficulties in this field, see Reynolds, Morgan and Smolensky, Eugene, “The Post-fisc Distribution: 1961 and 1970 Compared,” National Tax Journal XXVII (December 1974), 515–27.Google Scholar

54 The term is Titmuss's, Richard. See his Social Policy, an Introduction (London, 1974), 27.Google Scholar

55 Gillespie, W. Irwin, The Incidence of Taxation and Public Expenditures in the Canadian Economy, Studies of the Royal Commission on Taxation No. 2 (Ottawa, 1962)Google Scholar; James A. Johnson, The Incidence of Government Revenues and Expenditures, Study for the Ontario Committee on Taxation (Toronto, ND); Dodge, David, “Impact of Tax, Transfer and Spending Policies,” Review of Income and Wealth 21 (March 1975), 152CrossRefGoogle Scholar

56 “Is Redistributive Taxation a Myth?” Discussion Paper No. 122, Institute for Economic Research, Queen's University, 1973

57 “Can Income Redistribution Work?” Social Policy 6 (May–June 1975), 3–18, esp. p. 3

58 “Regional Development Incentive Grants in Canada,” DBA Thesis, Harvard University, 1972

59 “Tax Reform in Canada: A Progress Report,” National Tax Journal XXV (March 1972), 15–41

60 Gonick, Cy, “Sociology and the Economics of Growthmanship,” in Lapierre, Laurier, ed., Essays on the Left (Toronto, 1971), 139.Google Scholar See also Adams, Ian et al., The Real Poverty Report (Edmonton, 1971)Google Scholar; and Roussopulos, Dimitri, The Political Economy of the State (Montreal, 1973).Google Scholar For a lively discussion of “socialism for the rich,” see Lewis, David, Louder Voices: The Corporate Welfare Bums (Toronto, 1972)Google Scholar; see also Trevor Lloyd, “State Capitalism and Socialism: The Problem of Government Handouts” in Lapierre, Essays on the Left, 161–73.

61 The Fiscal Crisis of the State, 138

62 “Review” of Frances Fox-Piven, and Cloward, Richard, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Social Welfare, which appeared in Social Policy 3 (May 1972), 57Google Scholar

63 Miliband, Ralph, The State in Capitalist Society (London, 1969)Google Scholar; Poulantzas, Nicos, Political Power and Social Classes (London, 1973)Google Scholar; and Gough, Ian, “State Expenditure in Advanced Capitalism,” New Left Review 92 (July–August 1975), 5392Google Scholar

64 Some aspects of citizen perceptions are found in To Know and Be Known, Report of the Task Force on Government Information (Ottawa, 1969).

65 Brewis, T.N., Regional Economic Policies in Canada (Toronto, 1969), 85.Google Scholar For one attempt at such a calculation, see Lewis, Hartley, “Statistics on the Impact of National Fiscal and Monetary Policies,” B.C. Studies, 13 (September 1972), 4354.Google Scholar

66 The State in Capitalist Society

67 These categories bear considerable resemblance to those suggested by Anthony King in “Ideas, Institutions and Policies of Government,” op. cit.

68 See note 17.

69 “Output Change in Canada: A Preliminary Attempt to Open the Black Box,” paper presented to the Canadian Political Science Association, Montreal 1972, mimeo

70 Hogan, James Bennett, “Social Structure and Public Policy,” Comparative Politics 4 (July 1972), 477509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Poel, Dale, “Canadian Provincial and American State Policy,” paper presented to the Canadian Political Science Association, Montreal 1972Google Scholar, mimeo.

71 Frye, Brian and Winters, Richard, “The Politics of Redistribution,” American Political Science Review 64 (June 1970), 508–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar

72 See note 18. For the most thorough recent study of this problem, see Wilensky, Harold, The Welfare State and Equality (Berkeley, 1975).Google Scholar

73 An alternative view of the environment stresses not so much the technological and other imperatives of such processes as urbanization, but also the specific character of the dominant economic system, such as Galbraith's “technostructure.” This is an example of the interdependence of the various factors, but it seems more reasonable to deal with the role of technocrats, capitalists, and others under the heading of power.

74 There is a growing literature in this area. For a variety of approaches, see Axline, Andrew, et al., Continental Community (Toronto, 1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Lumsden, Ian, ed., Close the 49th Parallel etc. (Toronto, 1970).Google Scholar

75 Dahl, Robert A., “A Critique of the Ruling Elite Model,” American Political Science Review 52 (June 1958), 463–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Peter Bachrach and Baratz, Morton, Power and Poverty (New York, 1970)Google Scholar, chaps. 1–2. See also Wolfinger, Raymond, “Non-Decisions and the Study of Local Politics,” and Frey, Frederick, “Comment,” American Political Science Review 65 (October 1971), 1063–80 and 10811101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

76 See Bucovetsky and Bird, “Tax Reform in Canada”; and Bucovetsky, , “The Mining Industry and the Great Tax Reform Debate,” in Pross, A. Paul, ed., Pressure Group Behaviour in Canadian Politics (Toronto, 1975), 87114.Google Scholar

77 Bird, Richard M., “The Tax Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on Tax Reform in Canada,” Canadian Tax Journal XVIII (Sept.–Oct. 1970), 444.Google Scholar

78 The End of Liberalism (New York, 1969)

79 Old Age Pensions

80 Ibid., 11

81 For an interesting analysis of the interplay between culture and the policy process, see Anton, Thomas, “Policy-Making and Political Culture in Sweden,” Scandinavian Political Studies 4 (1969), 88102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

82 “The Public Philosophy: Interest Group Liberalism,” American Political Science Review 61 (March 1967), 5–24

83 George, Alexander, “The Operational Code: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision-Making,” International Studies Quarterly 13 (June 1969), 190222CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Putnam, Robert, “Studying Elite Political Culture: The Case of Ideology,” American Political Science Review 65 (1971) 651–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and “The Political Attitudes of Senior Civil Servants in Western Europe,” British Journal of Political Science 3 (July 1973), 257–90; and Anton, Thomas et al., “Bureaucrats in Politics: A Profile of the Swedish Administrative Elite,” Canadian Public Administration 16 (Winter 1973), 627–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

84 Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden (New Haven, 1974), 313–14

85 Presthus, Robert, Elite Accommodation in Canadian Politics (Toronto, 1973)Google Scholar, chs. 2, 11; Meisel, John, “Howe, Hubris and 1972,” in his Working Papers in Canadian Politics (3rd ed., Montreal, 1974)Google Scholar

86 “Ideas, Institutions and the Policies of Governments”

87 Stewart, Michael, Keynes and After (2nd ed., Harmondsworth, Eng., 1972), 13.Google Scholar The quote from Keynes is on p. 25.

88 “Public Policies in Canada”

89 For a statement of this view, see Richard Titmuss, Social Policy: An Introduction, 22.

90 See the work of Lindblom, and Braybrooke and Lindblom cited above; and Sklar, Judith, “Decisionism,” in Friedrich, Carl, ed., Nomos VII: Rational Decision (New York, 1967), 317.Google Scholar

91 Federalism, Finance and Social Legislation (Oxford, 1955), 204

92 Urban Canada: Problems and Prospects (Ottawa, 1970)

93 “Ideas, Institutions and Policies,” 416

94 “Responsible Government, Separated Powers and Special Interests: Agricultural Subsidies in Britain and America,” American Political Science Review LVI (September 1962), 621–33

95 “Do Political Structures Matter in Environmental Politics?” Canadian Public Administration 17 (Spring 1974), 139

96 “The Politics of Public Education, Health and Welfare in the USA and Western Europe,” British Journal of Political Science 3 (July 1973), 315–40

97 See Simeon, Richard, “Regionalism and Canadian Political Institutions,” Queen's Quarterly 82 (Winter 1975), 499511.Google Scholar

98 “The Electoral System and the Party System in Canada,” in Kruhlak, Orest et al., eds., The Canadian Political Process (Toronto, 1970), 139–64Google Scholar

99 For a good discussion of this debate, see Peter Aucoin, “Theory and Research in the Study of Policy-Making,” in Doern and Aucoin, The Structures of Policy-Making in Canada, 10.38.

100 There is a large and diverse literature in this field. Some important examples are: Breton, Albert, The Economic Theory of Representative Government (London, 1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Buchanan, James M. and Tullock, Gordon, The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1962)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Olson, Mancur, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge, Mass., 1965)Google Scholar; Downs, Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York, 1957)Google Scholar; Bish, Robert, The Public Economy of Metropolitan Areas (Chicago, 1971).Google Scholar For a good summary of the literature and an application to the study of Canadian and Australian Federalism, see Sproule-Jones, M.H., Public Choice and Federalism in Australia and Canada (Canberra, 1975).Google Scholar

101 For example, Richard Rose, “Comparing Public Policy”

102 Lindblom, , The Intelligence of Democracy (New York, 1965)Google Scholar