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Has three decades of comparative public policy scholarship been focusing on the wrong question?


  • Castles, Francis G.


The essential argument of this paper is that, despite the work of many pioneering scholars, the original agenda of those who came to comparative public policy with a view to demonstrating that the functioning of democratic politics makes a difference remains substantially unfulfilled. The substance of that agenda was to show that choices made through the ballot box influenced not only what governments did, but also had implications for important aspects of the lives of the citizens making those choices. One important reason for this failure was that much of the emergent quantitative literature came to focus on differences in government outputs as proxies for whether such differences translated into a diversity of real outcomes. In effect, the literature tried to settle the question of whether politics matters by showing how politics shapes what governments do without asking the no less important question: does government matter? This paper seeks to model a diverse range of outcomes with a view to assessing the impact of both political and government spending and taxing variables. On the basis of that assessment, I argue that the challenge for the next generation of political science informed comparative policy research is to go beyond an examination of the link between political choice and the outputs of government to ask questions about - and ideally to begin to map - the linkages between the things governments do and the lives their citizens experience.

Suggested Citation

  • Castles, Francis G., 2011. "Has three decades of comparative public policy scholarship been focusing on the wrong question?," TranState Working Papers 155, University of Bremen, Collaborative Research Center 597: Transformations of the State.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:sfb597:155

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    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:71:y:1977:i:04:p:1467-1487_26 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. James W. Shaw & William C. Horrace & Ronald J. Vogel, 2005. "The Determinants of Life Expectancy: An Analysis of the OECD Health Data," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 71(4), pages 768-783, April.
    3. Achim Kemmerling, 2009. "Taxing the Working Poor," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 13056.
    4. Esping-Andersen, Gosta, 1999. "Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198742005.
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    Cited by:

    1. Elsässer, Lea & Rademacher, Inga & Schäfer, Armin, 2015. "Cracks in the foundation: Retrenchment in advanced welfare states," economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, vol. 16(3), pages 4-16.

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