When Policy Does Not Remake Politics: The Limits of Policy Feedback
39 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2009
Over the past fifteen years, a burgeoning literature has explored the politics of policy feedback, showing how policies can create self-sustaining cycles of change and reconfigure the political dynamic. Yet there has been insufficient appreciation among historical institutionalists of the limits of feedback. In this essay, we explore three common reasons why positive feedback might not arise: weak policy design, inadequate or conflicting institutional supports, and poor timing. These conditions may be an unintended byproduct of the policy development process or they may stem from deliberate attempts by opponents to prevent a new policy from durably reshaping governing possibilities for the future. Drawing on a range of case examples, we discuss how the political impact of policy changes can peter out over time. More awareness of the institutional and temporal requisites of positive feedback should lead to a better understanding of the politics of policy development and may offer practical insight to reformers who wish to see their hard-won achievements last.
Keywords: institutions, policy feedback, path dependence
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