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Introduction to Public Policy

| Ideology |Limits |Cycle | Dismal Science|

"That government which governs least governs best."
Thomas Jefferson
"Americans are fed up with government at all levels."
President Richard Milhaus Nixon
"Government is not the solution. Government is the problem."
President Ronald Reagan
"The American people are not cynical. They are perceptive."
Peggy Noonan, Speech Writer to President George H. W. Bush
"The era of big government is over."
President Bill Clinton
"Yes, we can!"
President Barack Obama


The quotations above, except for the last, illustrate the prevailing preferences for small government and individual liberty which are firmly established legacies in American history. Yet, despite this hallowed tradition, American government, especially since the 1930s, has grown in cost and reach -- especially in the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama presidencies. This has evoked a staunch conservative reaction that hearkens back to the 1964 presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater (R.-AZ) against incumbent president Lyndon Johnson, a protégé of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The conservative movement, largely based in the Republican Party, now permeates American politics and government at all levels. Collisions about appropriate public policy abound. Much of the conflict derives from the question of the proper role of government in American society.

However, Congress is divided: the House of the Representatives is controlled by Republicans and the Senate belongs narrowinly to the Democrats. President Obama is a Democrat. Five of the nine justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by Repbulican Presidenets. A sharp sectional divide within the USA has coalesced around Red States (Repulican and generally conservative meaning small government) and Blue States (Democratic and generally liberal favoring a larger role for government.

The epic economic recession of 2008 into 2009 evoked an assertive but controversial national commitment to bail out banks and auto companies to ostensibly prevent the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression. The expected pushback reaction re-ignited the sharp disagreement of the proper role of government in managing the economy. The U.S.A. economy is stalled with meager economic growth and with relatively high unemployment.

Economic performance and policy constantly tops the national agenda, but globalization complicates and limits the policy response. The European Union experiences fiscal crises in several nations. Japan, recently rocked by tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdowns, stagnates for a generation. China now competes with the U.S.A. as a Great Power, an economic dynamo. Emerging economies such as Brazil and South Korea have become regional economic powerhouses. The world changes and becomes more complex, making public policy even more daunting and hard to grasp.

Continuing dissatisfactions persist over government policy in Iraq and Afghanistan while the lingering response to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the BP Deepwater spill disaster rock the Gulf region of the South. The shadow of the terrorist attack of 9/11/01 lurks in the shadows of our public life, despite the demise of Osama bin Ladin. Public confidence in government at all levels has plummeted along with the national economy. And the 2014 mid-term national elections loom.

This sets up a paradox. Despite the presumed withdrawal from big government, Washington-based institutions and insiders continue to expand government size, expense, debt, and scope. And the lingering Great Recession exacerbates the expansion.

Professionals in the field of public policy frequently promote their stock in trade, acting as true believers advocating even more public policy initiatives and expansion of current programs. Pet theories based on ideology, rarely results, abound. Consider Mark Twain's adage: "To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Those involved with government often tend to promote more government, evoking a countervailing response among those who oppose the expansion of government, either as an impediment to individual freedom or as a drain on their pocketbook. Hype and spin fog debate.

Here, we remain skeptical of the stated claims of public policy and of government, adopting a critical perspective. We seek truth and results, not partisan advantage. An honest and empirical investigation of public policy in this context will not be easy. Critical thought will guide our investigation.

Table of Contents

The introduction to The Public Policy Cycle Web Site includes these topics:

  1. An orientation to the field of public policy

  2. An explanation of the premises underlying The Public Policy Cycle Web Site:

  3. listing of some of the limits to public policy.
  4. A brief word on ideology in public policy

  5. An illustration: the seminal case of Malthus

Goal of The Public Policy Cycle Web Site

The main goal of most texts in the field of public policy is to explain how public policy works. Here, we intend to also explore how it does not work well and how it might be fixed.

Note to students: These pages comprise lecture notes that began as interpretive assistance provided to students to decode difficult texts in the field. These notes grew into a textbook that ultimately led to the conversion into the web site that you are now on. This saves you the cost of purchasing a textbook for this section of the course. (The text I preferred went out of print and the leading text that I would otherwise use, by James E. Anderson, costs about $120.) You must digest this material carefully and diligently.

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork |
Initialized: May 22, 2001 | Last Update: 05/20/2014