Inheritance in Public Policy

Change Without Choice in Britain

Richard Rose and Phillip L. Davies

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November 5, 2013
268 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300206463
Paper

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Cloth

Although politicians promise innovation and change when they run for office, once elected they face inherited commitments to programs initiated by their predecessors, legacies that severely limit their freedom of choice. In this trail blazing work, Richard Rose and Phillip L. Davies systematically examine the ways in which decisions made by past generations of administrators control policy-making in the present.

Basing their conclusions on a unique study of hundreds of public programs in effect in Britain since the end of World War II, Rose and Davies show that the impact of an administration's choices is greatest long after its term is concluded. Even though individual politicians have left office, their agenda is carried forward by the force of political inertia—the laws, public agencies, and budgets in continuing effect and the expectations of beneficiaries.

The limited choices that each administration makes are of two very different types. Some reflect careful deliberation over the years and are incorporated in the legacy of successive administrations. Others are trial-and-error attempts to deal with dissatisfaction arising from conditions that often lead to failure. The authors test three theories to account for differences in the persistence of particular types of policy. They conclude that the biggest stimulus for choice (and failure) comes from the turbulence of the market. Social programs are adopted much less often but are much more durable because they concern the enduring needs of families.

Richard Rose, director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde and Fellow of the British Academy, is internationally known for his pioneering work on comparative politics and public policy. Phillip L. Davies works for the Central Policy Unit, Liverpool City Council.

"Inheritance in Public Policy is a tour de force. Rose and Davies succeed in illuminating the neglected role of time in public policy decisionmaking."—Murray Weidenbaum, Washington University in St. Louis

"A book that will inform and stimulate students, rouse specialists to think again about political generalizations that they take for granted, and force politicians to recognize the limitations to their influence."—Sir Alan Peacock, The David Hume Institute

"This book offers an important and novel approach to the study of national policy-making, challenging some widely held beliefs on the subject."—Robert M. Stein, Rice University

"Here Rose and Davies set out the most developed, macro view of these research streams to date...Rose and Davies have engaged in a massive data analysis of British laws and expenditure patterns over time...This is a rich book both theoretically and empirically, with results sure to fuel considerable further research on the question of policy change."—Donley Studlar, British Politics Group Newsletter

"No student of politics can fail to derive advantage from this book and no radical politician, especially among the ranks of Labour hopefuls, can afford to ignore the explanatory power of its analysis."—John Plender, RSA Journal