December 11, 2009

Primeval soup

Lately Goat Rope is looking at the messy but interesting process of how public policy gets made (or doesn't). You'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

Before any major new public policy is introduced to the public or placed on the agenda, it often begins as an idea developed by a peculiar human subspecies popularly known as policy wonks.

As John Kingdon put it in Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies,

Picture a community of specialists: researchers, congressional staffers, people in planning and evaluation offices and in budget offices, academics, interest group analysts. Ideas float around in such communities. Specialists have their conceptions, their vague notions of future directions, and their more specific proposals. They try out their ideas on each other by going to lunch, circulating papers, publishing articles, holding hearings, presenting testimony, and drafting and pushing legislative proposals. The process often does take years...and may be endless.

Kingdon compares the development of policy proposals to the biological process of natural selection:

Much as molecules floated around in what biologists call the "primeval soup" before life came into being, so ideas float around in these communities. Many ideas are possible, much as many molecules would be possible. Ideas become prominent and then fade. There is a long process of "softening up": ideas are floated, bills introduced, speeches made; proposals drafted, then amended in response to reaction and floated again. Ideas confront one another (much as molecules bumped into one another) and combine with one another in various ways. The "soup: changes not only through the appearance of wholly new elements, but even more by the recombination of previously existing elements. While many ideas float around in this policy primeval soup, the ones that last, as in a natural selection system, meet some criteria. Some ideas survive and prosper; some proposals are taken more seriously than others.

Believe it or not, ideas actually matter, although it's a long way from conception to implementation.

HEALTH CARE AND THE HOUSE. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says nice things about the Senate compromise on health care reform here.

JOBS AND THE FED. Here's Krugman on what the Federal Reserve can and probably won't do to boost employment.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY AND MORE are discussed in the latest edition of Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

CHIMPS LIKE US dig music. They also like hugs.

TALKING COAL. Here's Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo post on public reaction to Senator Byrd's recent statement on the future of coal. And here's an item about coal and climate change legislation in the US Senate.


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