Summary of "Political Theory and Public Policy"

Summary of

Political Theory and Public Policy

By Robert E. Goodin

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Political Theory and Public Policy, Robert E. Goodin, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, 249 pp.

Political Theory and Public Policy is an examination of the role of political theory and its foundation in moral theory in the formation and justification of public policy.

Political Theory and Public Policy has been required reading in multiple political science courses at CU Boulder. This work is divided into four sections. The first section will be of interest to those who are seeking more than economic justifications for policy-making. The author examines the need for a theoretical foundation for policy-making. Goodin considers empirical theory and ethical theory to be necessary as the basis for sound policy decisions. The author examines and finds erroneous the practice of incrementalism. Goodin examines the epistemic, and adaptation rationale supporting incrementalism and consequently finds it to be merely "muddling through black boxes". The result of the failure of incrementalism is that it is possible to anticipate evaluations of future experiences.

The second section will be useful to those who seek an examination of the institutional and motivational frameworks and moral foundations of policy-making in institutions. Goodin advocates that our institutions collapse the rule-principle distinction which would result in the formation of loose laws, which he examines in some depth. The author asserts that our moral foundations must be centered upon human choice and dignity if they are to be adequate. Finally, it is asserted that our motivational framework is the result of moral incentives.

The third section will be of assistance in understanding the limitations of a theoretical foundation for policy-making. This section examines what Goodin asserts to be legitimate reasons for three types of failures in policy-making: inaction, mal-distribution, and myopia. Impossibility is a valid excuse for inaction; risk is a valid excuse for mal-distribution and uncertainty is a valid excuse for myopia.

The fourth section will be useful in seeing the application of Goodin's assertions to two policy areas. The author examines the institutional and motivational frameworks and the moral foundations of nuclear power policies and the policy of maintaining defense as a priority. His examination is a thorough-going one which raises significant ethical questions about public policy in these two areas.

Political Theory and Public Policy examines the philosophical basis of public policy from a political theory perspective. It provides the arguments necessary to support Goodin's positions.