a careful reading of this report [the OECD's "Going for Growth"] would give an opportunistic reformer plenty of hints, tips and tricks. It offers a guide to the subtle art of making possible what is necessary.
But when are the appropriate moments for policy reform? It alludes to traditional Public Choice when it says that:
The report's most disheartening conclusion is that reform must often wait for the sting of a crisis.
In the second part of my dissertation I tie these situations into Bruce Ackerman's concept of "constitutional moments", but I point out the limitations of Public Choice. In the words of Mancur Olson (who originated the view that reform follows crisis),
"So it appears that a balance of power or stalemate among the organised interests can leave an opening for new ideas When the different organised powers or interests more or less offset one another, ideas may make a big difference” (Olson 1989:46).
In other words ideas can create policy windows, and I identify several possible ways (this is a hybrid of Ashford (1997) and Gamble (1989)):
- ideas can create policy that switches people from one interest group to another. When Margaret Thatcher sold off council houses to residents, she was giving the relatively poor a stake in the economic prosperity she hoped to stimulate. As homeowners, a great number of voters suddenly had a stake in the monetary policy that the Conservatives were using. Privatization is a similar means to align people’s interests to liberal ideas, and reducing the barriers to entrepreneurship will also increase support for market reforms.
- ideas can redefine an interest via education, “For instance, someone’s belief that it is in their interest to support any party that promises to preserve the NHS [National Health Service] may depend upon their belief that if there were not an NHS, they would be unable to afford medical care, that even if they could afford it, the quality of the care would be poor, and so on. But these beliefs reflect ideas, and if those ideas were changed the beliefs would be undermined and we would expect to observe a change in political allegiance” (Melnyk 1989:124). Consequently the art of persuasion is an important factor in defining interests and deciding the policies that people support. A strong intellectual argument is enough to switch policy if it convinces someone that a causal belief they’d held is incorrect.
- policy entrepreneurs can identify new interests and pit them against entrenched ones. These may be existing groups that were not aware of particular policy, or those who’d gain from the new policy idea. This method explains why politicians like to leak legislation prior to crucial voting, to see how public opinion responds, and whether future beneficiaries emerge to support the bill.
- any pressure group requires popular legitimacy and so attempts to undermine their claims can harm their efforts. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rests on the popularity of self-sufficient farming, and the perceived importance of national agriculture. With the increase in globalization, and attention to farmers in developing countries who can’t compete with EU subsidies, this legitimacy becomes weakened and the moral case for free trade has potential to undermine the entrenched interests.
- economic ideas can create new policy tools that restrict the power entrenched groups have over the legislature. According to Ashford (1997): “The pursuit of antiinflation strategy that depended on the money supply, which was within the control of the government, reduced that dependency relationship and thus the power of the unions"
"Constitutional Moments and Subjectivist Public Choice: From Chandeliers to Fireworks" download here.pdf