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The logic of deflective action: US energy shocks and the US policy process

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2012

Peter Z. Grossman*
Department of Economics, Butler University, Indianapolis, USA
professor peter z. grossman Clarence Efroymson Professor of Economics, Butler University, 4600 Sunset Avenue, Indianapolis IN 46208, Tel: 1 317 940 9727, Fax: 1 317 940 9445, Email:


Exogenous shocks may lead to policies that seem extreme and even “irrational”. This paper argues that, in the event of a major energy shock in the US that persists, such legislation is an inevitable response to the demand from constituents that political actors “do something”. Since shocks by their nature are unanticipated and are often highly technical and complex, boundedly rational legislators cannot generally understand all of the ramifications of the shock, much less hope to craft well-considered and precise legislation to deal with it. But the demand to “do something” means that a range of actions is politically necessary. The “shock” policy process is modelled as a stepwise legislative decision problem. If the crisis persists, legislation that promises a solution is likely to be the result, even if this “solution” is infeasible. The model is applied to five US energy shocks.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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