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Philosophers And Their Influence On Public Policy Politics Essay

Definition of Public Policy: Public Policy has been described by various practioners in different ways. One of the most popular definitions of public policy is by Thomas Dye. According to him, public policy can be described as “anything a government chooses to do or not to do.” This definition specifies the following:

The primary agent of public policy making is a government.

Public policy making involves a fundamental choice on the part of the government to take action or not take action.

It is a conscious choice made by the government.

Evolution of public policy: Public policy as a field was initially related with the art of governing and politics. The initial proponents of the field emphasized the usage of all kinds of means and being shrewd to ensure that the end was reached. As societies evolved, they became more complex and moved to various forms of government. Many more rules and regulations were required and the thrust of government shifted from solely the science of governing to economics as well. With the rise of capitalism, government intervention in economics and functioning of societies began, which increased to a greater extent with the advent of socialism in some societies. The formulation of public policies and the processes adapted for their formulation saw transformation as per changes in the way the societies functioned and governed themselves. This process continues to evolve to this day. Practitioners and governments around the world have realized that each society requires individual policies to meet the needs of its people.

Niccolo Machiavelli is considered one of the main founders of modern political science. In his most famous book The Prince he deals with the problems of princely rule and how a prince should govern his state. According to him, politics is about acquiring and keeping power and preserving order in the state. It is to achieve these ends that the prince should be shrewd enough to know what tactics to employ and must be ready to take any action necessary to ensure them. Machiavelli believes moral means and political ends are two separate ideas and should not be combined by government. It is because of Machiavelli proposing the idea that the prince should know how to achieve the end without worrying about the means that the term Machiavellian is loosely used to describe usage of cunning and deceitful ways in politics. According to his philosophy, policy is to be used by the power holder to achieve their own objectives (Edwards and Townshend 2002).

Kautilya was advisor and prime minister to an Indian king and has been referred to as the “Indian Machiavelli,” even though he existed some 1800 years before him. He was considered a pioneer in the field of economics and political science. He was a propagator of shrewd acts of diplomacy and his two most famous works are Arthashastra and Neetishastra. Arthashastra consists of his very harsh and practical views on how a king should govern his state. Even though the highest duty of the king is to work for maximum welfare of his state and its citizens, he has to be shrewd enough to know how to keep his state and protect it and himself from his enemies. No action is immoral if it is taken in the larger interest of safeguarding the state and to retain power (Edwards and Townshend 2002).

Frances Bacon examined policy in a more modern sense compared to Machievalli and Kautilya. According to him power was the exercise of knowledge. Bacon was a prolific writer who wrote a number of texts on various subjects, but his most important works were on usage of inductive reasoning in philosophy. Bacon emphasised that good policies were based on knowledge and it was important to build support and agreement around them instead of just forcing them on people. Unlike Machievalli and Kautilya, who both proposed drastic and shrewd means of achieving the ends, Bacon proposed taking the middle path and emphasised a lot on organisation of knowledge (Barach 2004).

Both Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were leading exponents of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism proposes that worth of an action is determined only by its ability to provide happiness. The origin of this concept is attributed to Bentham. According to him pain and pleasure are the two intrinsic values in the world that should guide all human action. As per him the right policy or action is the one that would cause the greatest good to the greatest number of people. He proposed 12 pains and 14 pleasures and felicific calculus to calculate the happiness factor of any action. While calculating larger good of any action it is important to understand his theory of justice and how he has defined larger good in relation with fair justice.

Mill carried forward Bentham’s work and used it as a major element in the conception of state policy objectives. His most famous work is the On Liberty, which defined the limits of power that can be legitimately exercised by societies over individuals. He also developed the Harm principle, which said that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as individual actions do not harm others. Thus, according to both Bentham and Mill, public policies should be framed in keeping the larger good of the society. The premise of the policies should be that a large number of people should be satisfied with the policy (Barach 2004).

Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations introduced the invisible hand; an idea that government should not interfere in the market and their role is only in promoting a conducive environment to foster competition. He argued that economic downturns are temporary and that the market would be self-correcting. Another perspective is that of John Maynard Keynes who was also a relatively strong supporter of the free market. Although Keynes argued that government intervention is needed to stabilize the economy during a crisis. In The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, he advocated having a budget deficit to maintain full employment during downturns, an idea that was not common during the standard practice of balanced budgets (The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: John Maynard Kaynes 2008).

Karl Popper’s philosophy sought to make political decision-making follow the scientific approach of problem solving. He believed that people should not rely solely upon facts and evidence to deduce decision making, as some theories may be falsified. He argued that every theory is subject to falsifiability, which brought him to develop piecemeal social engineering. This allows the trial and error process to achieve social progress. Thomas Kuhn introduced the modern use of the term paradigm, which refers to the dominant theory in any discipline at any given time. He argued that scientists will encounter crises with factors that no longer fit into the old paradigm. A new theory must then be proposed and the old theory destroyed, thus a paradigm shift takes place. Kuhn believed that scientific knowledge progresses through discoveries of new paradigms (Barach 2004).

John Dewey came up with the thought that in democracy, ideas are changed and problems are solved through learning and testing. Moreover, he emphasized the important links between education and politics. Education plays a pivotal role in helping individuals achieve their full potential, this becomes an instrument for creating social change and reform. He argued that progressive education would help society to think critically and protect it from the dangers of dictatorship (Barach 2004).

John Rawls in A Theory of Justice attempted to instill the philosophy of justice in establishing political structures where demands of all social primary goods -- liberty and opportunity, income and wealth and the bases of self-respect -- are to be distributed equally. Differences could take place if such inequalities lead to advantage of the least favored. This thought indirectly criticized the utilitarian belief of the greatest good for the greatest number of people, which could be abused by sacrificing justice for minorities. (Piccard 2005)

Karl Marx wrote about human history and the class struggle. His theories had a significant influence on proletariat and government policies. Governments around the world heard his call for social equity and the distribution of social interest. His vision of creating a classless society brought about by equitable redistribution of the resources by the state is one of his major contributions to public policy. Additionally, Marx brought a scientific spirit to studying society and its problems. Along with Weber and Emile Durkheim, he laid the foundations for the discipline of sociology, which has now become a foundation in the study of public policy (Barach 2004).

Mao Tse Tung was one of the co-founders of the China Communist Party and People’s Republic of China, as well as being the first Chairman of PRC. Mao was less a philosopher and political thinker and more a practitioner. Although he wanted progress in China, he felt that the path lay in empowering the peasants and not just the industrial workers. Further, he felt that there could be no alternative to violent struggle. However, his failures, as was seen in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, teaches us that public policy must be used according to each nation’s own situation. An improper public policy can do harm to the economy and people’s wellbeing. Thus, Mao’s contribution to the general public policy is also a warning not to use public policy indiscriminately (Barach 2004).

Lee Kuan Yew’s policies regarding fighting corruption and corporal punishment are of his major contributions to public policy. With a powerful monitoring organ and high salaries, Singapore’s government is renowned worldwide for its responsiveness and efficiency. Moreover, the wide use of corporal punishment in the form of caning has made Singapore a city with extremely low crime rates. Additionally, Lee Kuan Yew crafted policies based on his belief that Asia’s public policy should be based on “Asian values,” rather than merely copying those of the west. This has made other governments realize that public policy should be designed according to their own situation, rather than simply implementing generic policies (Barach 2004).

Deng Xiao Ping was the leader that led the People’s Republic of China to reform and open China to the rest of the world. The series of policies he adopted enabled China to gradually embrace the market economy and achieve robust economic growth in the last 30 years. Deng’s pragmatism in realizing that the free market economy was essential to drive China’s progress and his flexibility in combining the socialist agenda with free market principles can be said to be his main contributions to the practice of public policy. He broke away from ideological restraints and gave priority to economic development and improving the living standards of people (Barach 2004).

Friedrich Hayek is one of the most well known voices for free market capitalism and classic liberalism of the 20th century. The foundation of his arguments is based on the idea that human knowledge is limited; therefore government and bureaucratic interference in markets is unconstructive and often detrimental. The role of government is merely to allow the free market to flow without disturbance. If public policy is necessary in the market it should be done so by creating conditions that will best allow the free flow of the market (Barach 2004).

Jürgen Habermas stresses the importance of language and communication, as well as how to comprehend knowledge. He advocates the ideal speech situation, which calls for a means to analyze and discuss institutional methods through a clear dialogue in which all parties understand one another’s thoughts and ideas. This can bring a new approach to developing and implementing public policy (Barach 2004).

“Politics is who gets what, when, and how.” Perhaps the most commonly used definition of politics is just one of Harold Lasswell’s many contributions to the field. He was the founding father of political psychology. Trained in Freudian psychoanalysis, Lasswell proposed the ‘political personality’ results from the displacement of private problems onto public life. An example being power may be sought to overcome low self-esteem. The most notable of his public policy stances is the belief that men are not the best judges of their own interests; it is the elite that are better judges and therefore should have the power to implement policy. (Houghton 2008)

The other side of this coin is Aaron Wildavsky. He is leery of government agencies in charge of protection and prevention and opts for trial and error in risk management. He supports increasing the public’s ability to handle the consequences of risk rather than being overly cautious. Wildavsky argues this will increase productivity and technological advancement. (Wildasky and Wildasky n.d.)

The policies of William Niskanen can be summed up in the economic policies he helped create under the Reagan administration:

Reduce government spending

Reduce income and capital gains marginal tax rates

Reduce government regulation of the economy

Control the money supply to reduce inflation (Niskanen n.d.)

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