Chapter 2 Identifying Policy Problems

Abstract

Policy analyses begin with a systematic overview of the policy problem they address. This includes a comprehensive discussion of the nature and context of the problem, and the institutional and behavioral factors responsible for its emergence. Problem statements must also explain why the status quo is bad or undesirable, why it is something that governments, rather than private actors, should address, and establish that the relevant government institutions have the legitimacy to intervene. In this chapter, I provide an overview of the principal types of policy problems that it is morally appropriate for governments to address. Each type denotes a class of states of affairs that (1) are bad, undesirable, or unjust, (2) the government is particularly well-suited to address, and (3) arise from spheres of action over which the relevant government institutions have the right to intervene. I begin with a discussion of collective action problems, that is, states of affairs in which action by rational and self-interested private actors is collectively self-defeating. I then argue for two additional types of policy problems. First, since the goal of government action is the construction of a just legal order, not merely an efficient one, states of affairs which are unjust constitute an additional type of policy problem. Relatedly, second, whereas analyses of collective action problems typically presuppose the existence of effective government institutions which can address them, such institutions may be deficient and/or unjust. A third type of policy problem is therefore deficient government institutions.

Author's Profile

Douglas MacKay
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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