Skip to main content

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

  • Peter Z. Grossman (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
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:
Hide All
Ahrari, M. E. (1987) A paradigm of “crisis” decision making: the case of synfuels policy. British Journal of Political Science 17(1): 7191.
Arnold, R. D. (1990) The Logic of Congressional Action. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Baumgartner, F. R.Jones, B. D. (2009) Agendas and Instability in American Politics, 2nd Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Broder, J. 2007. Voter anger may free up energy bills. New York Times (13 November), C1.
Cobb, R. W.Elder, C. D. (1975) Participation in American Politics: The Dynamics of Agenda Building. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Cobb, R., Ross, J. K.and Ross, M. R. (1976) Agenda building as a comparative political process. American Political Science Review 70(1): 128138.
Cohen, L. R.Noll, R. G. (1991) The Technology Pork Barrel. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Downs, A. (1972) Up and down with ecology – the “Issue-attention Cycle”. The Public Interest 28: 3850.
Eyestone, R. (1978) From Social Issues to Public Policy. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Fri, R. W. (2006) From energy wish lists to technological reality. Issues in Science and Technology. Online at:
Grossman, P. Z. (2009a) US energy policy and the presumption of market failure. Cato Journal 29(2): 295317.
Grossman, P. Z. (2009b) The Apollo fallacy and its effect on US energy policy. Energy Policy 37(10): 38803882.
Hall, T. E. (2003) The Rotten Fruits of Economic Controls and the Rise from the Ashes, 1965–1989. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Higgs, R. (1987) Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. New York: Oxford University Press.
Higgs, R. (2009) The political economy of crisis opportunism. Policy Primer No. 11. Mercatus Center: George Mason University.
John, P. (2003) Is there life after policy streams, advocacy coalitions and punctuations: using evolutionary theory to explain policy change? Policy Studies Journal 31(4): 481498.
Jones, B. D.Baumgartner, F. R. (2005) The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Problems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jones, C. O. (1974) Speculative augmentation in federal air pollution policy-making. The Journal of Politics 36(2): 438464.
Kingdon, J. W. (1984) Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. New York: Harper Collins.
Maltzman, F.Shipan, C. R. (2008) Change, continuity, and the evolution of the law. American Journal of Political Science 52(2): 252267.
Mayhew, D. R. (1974) Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Nohrstedt, D. (2005) External shocks and policy change: Three Mile Island and Swedish nuclear policy. Journal of European Public Policy 12(6): 10411059.
Sabatier, P. A. (1993) Policy change over a decade or more. In Sabatier P. A. and Jenkins-Smith H. C. (eds.) Policy Change and Learning: An Advocacy Coalition Approach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1339.
Sabatier, P. A.Weible, C. M. (2007) The advocacy coalition framework. In Sabatier P. A. (ed.) Theories of the Policy Process, 2nd Edition. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 189220.
Schlager, E. (2007) A comparison of frameworks, theories and models of policy processes. In Sabatier P. A. (ed.) Theories of the Policy Process, 2nd Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 293320.
Shepsle, K. A.Weingast, B. R. (1981) Structure-induced equilibrium and legislative choice. Public Choice 37(3): 503519.
True, J. L., Jones, B. D.Baumgartner, F. R. (2007) Punctuated equilibrium theory: explaining stability and change in public policymaking. In Sabatier P. A. (ed.) Theories of the Policy Process, 2nd Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 155187.
Tullock, G. (1976) The Vote Motive: An Essay in the Economics of Politics with Applications to the British Economy. London: Institute of Economic Affairs.
Weaver, R. K. (1986) The politics of blame avoidance. Journal of Public Policy 6(4): 371398.
Zahariadis, N. (2007) The multiple stream framework: structure, limitations, prospects. In Sabatier P. A. (ed.) Theories of the Policy Process, 2nd Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 6592.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Public Policy
  • ISSN: 0143-814X
  • EISSN: 1469-7815
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-public-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed