Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

By Barry Bozeman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
ECONOMIC INDIVIDUALISM
IN PUBLIC POLICY

In the ownership society, the more people own, the bigger the stake they
have in society.

—GEORGE W. B USH, 2005

Chapter 1 argued that economic individualism has become increasingly influential in public policy and management, and chapter 2 illustrated some particular instances of economic individualism's impacts on policy, including in some cases quite unfortunate impacts. This chapter considers some of the pathways by which economic individualism has influenced public policy, focusing particularly on the ideas supporting both economic individualism and economics-based models of the government and private-sector roles in public policy. The following chapter considers how these ideas have influenced public management. This is a bit of an artificial distinction because public policy and public management have soft boundaries and inevitably meld. However, it is a useful distinction, even if somewhat unrealistic, in that it reflects two largely separate literatures: one emphasizing the development and analysis of policy and the other emphasizing the implementation and management of public policies and the institutions created by them.

After presenting a brief discussion of the reasons why economic individualism has such a strong and long-standing grip in American political culture, I focus on some of the manifestations of economic individualism in public policy. Each of the brief case studies presented in this section illustrates that policies develop as a dynamic interplay between economic values and desiderata and public ones. Most of the chapter is devoted to the ideas underpinning economic theories of public policy, in line with a prime thesis of this book that theories of public interest and public value have not generally kept pace with the development of policy and management theories based on economic premises. It may not be entirely clear why this is important, as there is so little obvious evidence of theoretical reasoning in day-to-day policymaking. Thus, before presenting a synoptic overview of some of the best-known general

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