Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

Synopsis

Can we rely on the altruism of professionals or the public service ethos to deliver good quality health and education services? And how should patients, parents, and pupils behave - as grateful recipients or active consumers?This book provides new answers to these questions - a milestone in the analysis and development of public policy, from one of the leading thinkers in the field. It provides a new perspective on policy design, emphasising the importance of analysing the motivation of professionals and others who workwithin the public sector, and both their and public service beneficiaries' capacity for agency or independent action. It argues that the conventional assumption that public sector professionals are public-spirited altruists or 'knights' is misplaced; but so is the alternative that they are all, inDavid Hume's terminology, 'knaves' or self-interested egoists. We also must not assume that individual citizens are passive recipients of public services (pawns); but nor can they be untrammelled sovereigns with unrestricted choices over services and resources (queens). Instead, policies must bedesigned so as to give the proper balance of motivation and agency. The book illustrates how this can be done by detailed empirical examination of recent policies in health services, education, social security and taxation. It puts forwards proposals for policy reform, several of which either originated with the author or with which he has been closely associated:universal capital or 'demogrants', discriminating vouchers, matching grants for pensions and for long-term care, and hypothecated taxes.

Excerpt

I first encountered the quotation from David Hume with which this book opens when preparing for my inaugural lecture as a newly appointed professor at the London School of Economics. University 'inaugurals' are rather daunting events when new professors deliver a formal lecture to an audience that includes not only their own department's colleagues and students but also staff and students from other parts of the university together with friends and relatives. Most of these know nothing about the area in which the lecturer is working or indeed his or her specialist discipline. So lecturers are supposed to lay out their wares in a non-specialised fashion that both informs and entertains—and that convinces the listeners that the university has made an excellent appointment.

The lecture was somewhat anaemically titled 'New Visions of Welfare', and my preparations for it were not going well. It was supposed to reflect upon the dramatic changes that at the time (the mid-1990s) had just transformed the welfare state. These included the break-up of the old state monopolies providing public services such as health care and education, and their replacement by so-called 'internal' or 'quasi' markets. in those parts of the welfare state concerned with cash benefits, such as social security and income support, there seemed also to be a desire to look outside the old ways of doing things, to question the usefulness of cash benefits as a means of achieving redistribution, and to find different ways of reducing poverty and inequality. It was apparent that all these changes represented some kind of cosmic shift in thinking about public services and the welfare state. But it was far from clear exactly what the nature of this shift was and where it had come from. the welfare state had been in existence for fifty years or so, and, despite numerous political and economic crises during that time, its basic form and structure had remained virtually intact during all that time. What was it that had led to these dramatic changes? Why were policy-makers now engaging in radical reforms? Was there a consistent pattern here, one that might give some insight into what really was going on?

The passage from Hume gave me a clue to part of the puzzle. in it, Hume appears to be recommending that public policy-makers ought to assume that all those involved with governmental organisations were fundamentally self-interested—knaves—and to design policies accordingly. Yet it was apparent from looking at the history of that prime example of a governmental organisation, the welfare state, that the architects who originally designed it had not followed Hume's dictum at all. So far from assuming that everyone was a knave, they seem to have believed that public service professionals and other

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