Liberal Democracy and Policy-Making:
Knowledge and the Formation of Social Policy
PUBLIC policy reflects multiple sources, including electoral pressures, regulation of and accommodation with market forces, elite and popular pressures, incrementalism, and bureaucratic innovations. Democratic systems which coexist with a market economy require government interventions to facilitate the operation or maintenance of the market, an institution deemed a guarantor of choice and efficiency. Karl Polanyi observed that 'the road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled intervention‐ ism,' 1 a judgement which may overstate the level of government intervention but not its significance. Commenting on the implementation of the New Poor Law in 1834 in Britain, Hugh Heclo concludes that 'during this period of supposedly laissez faire government, a shift becomes perceptible from the medieval policy of largely negative state prohibitions to new attempts at deliberate social engineering ... The nineteenth century British poor law was a manifestation of the period's most enlightened principles of Malthusian social science and political economy, a heroic attempt at social planning in the broadest sense.' 2 The commitment to the sovereignty of individual democratic rights has to be balanced with an apparently ineluctable need for government intervention in social and economic policy; 3 such intervention must, however, be rendered compatible with democratic rights. In this century it is also presented and partly justified in terms of expertise. A consequence of this characteristic is the particular role assumed by 'knowledge' in the making of social policy.
Social policy clearly serves political purposes and, I argue, expertise is fundamental to fulfilling those purposes. 4 To devise social policies, policy‐ makers require an 'evidential' or 'knowledge' base. How this knowledge is identified and employed in policy choices is a key issue in comparative politics. Its influence is twofold: first, as part of the intellectual and political____________________