We have written this book with one aim and a number of hopes. Our aim is to enable those interested in public policy and the social sciences to surmount disciplinary and national boundaries. In doing so, we hope students will gain a better understanding of differences in the scope and substance of major public policies affecting the United States and western Europe. We also hope that this cross-national study, which examines not just current policies but also the politics of their development, will encourage scholars and students of public policy, of comparative politics, and of national and subnational policy processes to expand the basis upon which their interests and expertise can be related. By focusing effort on explaining how and why current national programs in various policy areas have developed as they have, we hope to provide a platform which will permit the study of public policy to become both more comparative and more meaningful.
Some books dealing with public policy introduce their subject by presenting a simplified model of the policy-making process, usually a diagram of boxes and arrows surrounded by numerous floating bodies. Ours does not. The reason is that no policy model with which we are acquainted can be realistically applied to the broad range of policy problems that we examine in half a dozen national settings. There is no easy way into the complexities of these social policies. Discussions of policy process tend to be skeletal without an understanding of how issues are related to policy substance. Therefore, in all chapters, problems of policy substance are linked to those of political process.
Though the chapters use some aspects of the case-study approach, none of them analyzes merely one or two instances of decision making. Nor do we answer a standard set of questions in each chapter. Rather, we point out the similarities among the policy areas by tracing parallels in the roles of interest groups, parties, bureaucracies, and program clients. The chapters might be labeled comparative profiles in policy development and implementation. They are designed to acquaint the reader with the range of prevailing practices in each policy area and to illustrate issues that emerged in the process of program innovation and development. Within that framework, we analyze, in varying degrees of depth, some representative political struggles. Many of the forces referred to—interest groups, political parties, and bureaucracies—may already be familiar to students from their previous reading on American and European politics. Our assessment of the many forces operating in a series of policy decisions should help the reader to understand why certain kinds of social programs, or reform models, came to be more widely adopted than others or, alternatively, failed to "take off." After reading the relevant chapter, the reader should know not only that public housing in America, or comprehensive schools in West Germany, have languished compared with similar activities in other countries, but also many of the reasons why.