Dani Rodrik has interesting stuff to say about the way policy is formed. He discusses whether government policy is driven more by the prevailing ideology or by the interests of powerful lobby groups. There are two key ponts he makes:
- There are a lot of ways to make the lobbyists happy and many of them also help others, or fit in with the government’s ideology. Therefore it’s often hard to infer the motive from the action. I would add that the inference is often made on the basis of the observer’s personal political views.
- So far as he can tell, ideology is usually more important than lobbyists:
isn’t it the case that the reason trade unions, say, have lost power in recent decades is the ideology of deregulation which swept Washington, D.C.? Or that U.S. auto makers have been unable to get large-scale import protection because this was a no-no in the prevailing ideological climate?… The fact that the U.S. wants fiscal stimulus and Germany doesn’t cannot be explained by the relative power of different groups within those countries. It has much more to do with the way in which their respective governments have defined the problem and the “lessons” of history they have drawn. Similarly, France wants more global regulation in large part because, well, France believes in regulation. Sure, Britain and the U.S. prefer a lighter touch in part because their financial sectors are more powerful–which in turn is due in part to the Reagan-Thatcher ideological revolution.
If we accept Rodrik’s argument then we must ask where these ideologies come from. In a democratic system there is no avoiding the fact that the prevailing views of the government are usually the ones voted for by a plurality of the citizenry. I’d like to think that this is the case because it would disturb me to believe that money can buy power that a democratic majority cannot achieve.