The Politics of Industrial Change: Railway Policy in North America

By R. Kent Weaver | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Politics of Policy Instrument Choice

CITIZENS are primarily concerned with the outcomes produced by government action: adequate transportation and housing, clean air and water, and safe streets, for example. Similarly, the important clashes in industrial policy decisions are likely to concern outcomes, whether they be protectionist, market-oriented, or accelerationist. But conflicts may also arise over how the benefits are provided--over the instruments used to deliver policy. Policy choices do not determine instrument choices, although the two decisions are often made concurrently. Nor are conflicts over instrument choice simply reflections of an underlying conflict over policy goals.

Instrument choices are controversial because of the costs and benefits they impose on those responsible for implementing the policy, on their clientele, and on competitors. Consider the auto industry. If a government wants to protect domestic producers from foreign competition, it has several instruments it can use. Tariffs, a form of taxation, are one obvious response. A government can also require a substantial domestic content in automobiles or negotiate "voluntary" import quotas with foreign governments--two forms of regulation. A third option is to provide low-cost loans or loan guarantees to domestic automakers to make them more competitive. A government can also subsidize the operating costs and modernization efforts of domestic automakers or take them over and operate them as a public enterprise.

The level of domestic auto sales and employment might be the same regardless of the instrument chosen, but the costs imposed on automakers, employees, and consumers vary. Stockholders of firms subject to nationalization may not wish to lose control of their holdings. Consumers may resist the higher prices, decreased options, and long delivery times resulting from import quotas. Central budgetary agencies are likely to oppose subsidies to the private sector unless they are accompanied by cost controls.

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