Notes on Nelson and Winter

Notes on Nelson and Winter - Notes on Nelson and Winter The...

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1 Notes on Nelson and Winter “The Evolution of Public Policies and Role of Analysis” Over the past few months, we have been studying various methods for analyzing public policies. I thought it would be good to close the course by considering some circumspect observations by two highly regarded economists who have been heavily involved in policy analysis—Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter. Nelson and Winter follow Joseph Schumpeter in emphasizing the evolutionary character of economies and institutions in general and they urge us to think of public laws, policies and organizations as undergoing continuous evolution. They observe that the cumulative result of this evolution is a gradual modification of the basic structure of society. You have probably studied in another class political scientist Charles Lindblom’s characterization of planning (and policy making in general) as ‘muddling through.’ Like Lindblom, Nelson and Winter don’t think that human understanding is capable of ‘synoptic analysis.’ But they also recognize that attempts to analyze problems are strongly influenced by theoretical perspectives from which the problems are viewed. In Chapter 16 of their book, they reflect on mechanisms and actors of public policy, the role of analysis in public policy, and government policy toward R&D in particular. We will concern ourselves with only the first two parts. 1. Mechanisms and Actors Nelson and Winter observe that public policies evolve in response to changes in perceived demands and opportunities. Thus public policies may
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2 reflect not changes in objective conditions but shifts in values, or understanding. They observe that “change over time in the relative power of different interests and groups within society likely will pull changes in policy in their wake. The particular institutions and procedures for arriving at and modifying policies determine the way in which … various forces are translated into new policy departures. Sometimes the institutional machinery for making policy seems to take on a life of its own.” They consider in detail the evolution of air quality regulation in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s as an example. They show how the regulations, in particular formulations, came to represent vested interests. Studies carried out in support of these regulations were often defensive in nature and failed to consider trade-offs or alternative ways of improving air quality. Nelson and Winter argue that similar scenarios developed in the cases of policies concerning water fluoridation and welfare. They observe that public policies are implemented by organizations largely
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Notes on Nelson and Winter - Notes on Nelson and Winter The...

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