Overheads Reduction: Policy Change as a Political Innovation I

By Böcskei, Balázs | European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities, July 2016 | Go to article overview

Overheads Reduction: Policy Change as a Political Innovation I


Böcskei, Balázs, European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities


Introduction

The study investigates the case of the overheads reduction initiative as a main shiftin the public policy from the perspective of the punctuated equilibrium theory and how it can be applied to its analysis. With the measures of the overheads reduction, the government reacted to a real social problem, which, however - except for the government itself - has not been articulated through the activities of other actors in the field of public policy. Until the government took action, the case has not entered the 'problem stream' (Kingdon, 1984), even though there were a significant number of people holding debts, and their number kept growing since 2003, moreover a respective proportion from the domestic income has been spent to pay offthe overheads. Apart from this, the amounts of the outgoings per capita for home maintenance and domestic energy have permanently been growing between 2000 and 2011. Not only did the increase of overheads and the accumulation of arrears appear as a problem, but also the debt spiral associated to it. In the given case until the end of 2012 - in contrast to the foreign currency retail borrowers - even though the social problem permanently existed the pressure to bring the issue on agenda has not been generated until the action of the government.ii

The issue of the overheads reduction was therefore integrated into the political stream by the government, by the act of which it becomes one of the top priorities of the government. All these actions result in a shiftin public policy, to tackle the problem, changes in the legal framework and institutional background enter into force. The government acting as a policy entrepreneur - as the only one contributor involved as a public policy actor - allocates the resources to ensure the realization of the overheads reduction initiative, chooses from the appealing options in a way to secure the governmental philosophy and the potential growth of its support. From the initial point of being articulated and entering the problem stream up until the institutionalization of the public policy changes, the government dominated the whole discourse.

These determinations and the subsequent application of the punctuated equilibrium theory to the case of the overheads reduction initiative lead to the conclusion that this measure cannot be accounted for as a purpose of stabilizing a public policy problem, but only as a means of prevailing the primacy of politics in order to increase support. As a consequence I did apply the phrase "political" innovation in the title of the paper.

In a series of measures taking place from January 2013 in three waves (January, July and November), the government engaged as a 'case operator' and public policy innovator came up with a different solution ('policy image') than previously applied regarding the price regulation of domestic energy and did not only break the former equilibrium, but also introduced the waves successively. To justify for the punctuation, the case of overheads reduction has risen to be an issue of macro-politics respectively. The new policy image and monopoly has altered the position of the other political actors according to the content of the overheads reduction. After the incremental changes, with the year 2013 the consecutive shocks anticipated and reinforced the changes in the future periods (positive feedback). All this can result in a new state of equilibrium and the reduction of intentions for further radical changes, which as a negative feedback could shiftthe system toward stability.

In the background of the formulation of the new 'policy image' the political purpose was the ultimate goal, and not the high costs of domestic energy or the outstanding amount of people in debt. The interrupted sequence and the collapse of the previous public policy monopoly were facilitated by the fact that the series of measures in question were integral parts of the governmental communication and philosophy of the 'economic freedom-fighter'. …

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