Instrumentalist Policymaking: Policy Criteria in a Transactional Context

By Hayden, F. Gregory | Journal of Economic Issues, June 1995 | Go to article overview

Instrumentalist Policymaking: Policy Criteria in a Transactional Context


Hayden, F. Gregory, Journal of Economic Issues


As an extension of my recent policymaking chapter, Institutionalist Policymaking [Hayden 1993, 283-331], this paper deals with policy criteria in an instrumentalist or pragmatist framework. The works of Charles Peirce and Thorstein Veblen emphasized criteria-peirce with explicit discussion of their character and Veblen with active application in his evaluations of various economies and institutions. Few scholars have continued in their tradition; Seymour Melman [19831, with his excellent Veblenian application of criteria in industrial policy studies, is a notable exception. Interest in the subject of criteria, except by individualist philosophers, has been scarce in the twentieth century until recently. Thirty years ago, it was unique to find a discussion of criteria even briefly presented in books concerned with policymaking, planning, political science, economics, and the like. Today, such discussion has become much more robust. Given the fact that we are the political descendants of the Greeks, one might have expected evaluative criteria to have been a major concern all along.

As the interest in the subject has grown, so has the breadth of its definition. In current literature, the term "criteria" is often used interchangeably with standards, goals, decision rules, particle levels, and so forth. For the purpose here, its original definition as standards for judgment is recaptured-policy judgment in this case. In a policy paradigm, policy criteria are prior to policy evaluation, and policy evaluation is prior to and determines the establishment of goals, program standards, decision rules, and so forth. Or stated differently, we need to judge policy before we can know what goals, decision rules, or particle standards are to be implemented. For example, applying the decision rule of producing where marginal costs are equal to marginal benefits is not a policy judgment.

The judgments have been made prior to that decision by establishing system that calls for such a misguided rule. In general, decision making, and therefore decision sciences, should not be elevated to the level of policy judgments and policymaking. Refined mathematical representations can be developed for the parameters and variables of some decision rules; policy judgments are not so rote or devoid of social process dynamics. Senator John Kerry recently articulated the difference well during a televised hearing when, in response to a statement, he said, "I want to know bow you made the judgment, not how you made the decision. What judgment and wisdom guided you?"

Normative Criteria Should Guide Research

We have learned from semiotics that a connection exists between the conditions of signification and the conditions of validity and verification. The interpretation of signs influences what is believed to be valid. In the West, prior to Peirce, the analysis for determining the connection between signification and validity was completed through dichotomous or dualistic analysis. Peirce developed a trichotomy for understanding signs, objects, words, or ideas. For him, such understanding is an action or "cooperation of three subjects, a sign, its object and its interpretant" [Peirce 1931, 4841. The interpretant is the social and cultural content that guides interpretation. As Umberto Eco stated, "The content has to be defined as a cultural unit (or as a cluster or a system of interconnected cultural units)" [Eco 1979, 62]. One of our basic problems is bow to touch such content. The meaning of signs, objects, words, and ideas "is linked to a cultural order, which is the way in which society thinks, speaks and, while speaking, explains the `purport' of its thought through other thoughts" [Eco 1979, 61]. Knowing the cultural and social world is not possible in the ontological sense. "Every attempt to establish what the referent of a sign is forces us to define the referent in terms of an abstract entity which moreover is only a cultural convention" [Eco 1979, 66].

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