Meaning of public policy, Importance and Examples by Types

Meaning of public policy, Importance and Examples by Types

Public policies are as old as governments. Whatever be the form, oligarchy, monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, democracy etc., - whenever and wherever governments have existed, public policies have been formulated and implemented. To cope with the varied. Problems and demands of the people the government has to make many policies, these policies are called public policies.

Public policy is the means by which a government maintains order or addresses the needs of its citizens through actions defined by its constitution. If this definition sounds vague or confusing, it's likely because a public policy is generally not a tangible thing but rather is a term used to describe a collection of laws, mandates, or regulations established through a political process.

In the United States, for example, there have been recent changes to the health care system that now require every citizen to have health insurance. After a series of debates, evaluations, and analysis, the federal government arrived at the conclusion that this would be in the best interest of citizens and began crafting bills, insurance mandates, and other pieces of legislation to establish a system for how Americans receive health care treatment. Through this legal and political process, they have created a new public policy, which contains several different parts in order for it to serve its purpose.


Learning objective

At the end of this study, you will be able to know:

(a)  The meaning of public policy

(b) Importance of public policy

(c) Examples by types of public policy  


Meaning of Public Policy

Public Policy may be defined as a script adopted and pursued by the government. Anderson stated, that policy be observed as purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern.

According to Sir, Geoffrey Vickers, policies are judgments giving way, unity and steadiness to the course of act for which the decision making body is accountable.

Friedrich look policy as …a proposed course of action of a person, group, or government within a given environment providing obstacles and opportunities with the policy was proposed to utilized and overcome in an effort to reach a goal or realize an objective or purpose.

According to Parsons, who stated about it as, “A policy is an attempt to define and structure a rational basis for action or inaction”. In present terminology a policy is broadly defined as a course of action or plan, a set of political purposes. It might well be sufficiently defined “policy” as a purposive development of act taken or accepted by those in power in chase of convinced goals or objectives. It must be added here that public policies are the policies accepted and executed by government bodies and officials. They are framed by what Easton appeals the „authorities‟ in a political system. Namely, “elders, paramount chiefs, executives, legislators, judges, administrators, councilors, monarchs, and the like”. He stated as, these are the persons who “engage in the daily affairs of a political system”, are “recognized by most members of the system as having the responsibility for these matters” and take action that are “accepted and binding most of the time by most of the members so long as their act within the limit of their roles”.

Dye, says that…institutional studies usually described specific government institutions…without systematically inquiring about the impact of institutional characteristics on policy outputs…However, the linkage between institutional arrangements and content of policy remained largely unexamined. The definitions of public policy are as follows: According to Thomas Dye, defines public policy as “whatever governments choose to do or not to do”.

Dimock, stated public policy as “deciding at any time or place what objectives and substantive measures should be chosen in order to deal with a particular problem”.

According to Chandler and Plano, who define public policy as “the strategic use of resources to alleviate national problems or governmental concerns”. Freeman and Sherwood, stated that it is the public answer to the interest in refining the human circumstances. In these definitions there is deviation between what governments agree to do and what they essentially do. Public policy is a controller which government has planned for direction and practice in certain problem areas. In the current times, the study of public policy has evolved into what is virtually a fresh branch of social sciences called as, „policy sciences‟.

In 1951, Harold Lasswell, for the first time, the concept of policy science was framed. Presently, the policy sciences have departed far away from immature ambitions for societally applicable information.

Concept of Public and Policy

In the literature of academics, the term public policy is regularly utilized in our present day life and we regularly refer to the policies which are implanted like, national, education policy, agriculture policy, health policy, wage policy so on. In fact this is the area where public are involved. The concept of public policy is assumes, that there is domain of life which has totally individual and is not private, which is believed in collective.

The Notion of Public: It is very significant to recognize the notion of public for a discussion of public policy. We regularly use the words such as public interest, public sector, public opinion, public health, and so on. The public policy, has to do with which are labelled as the public, as contrasting to scopes concerning „private. The measurements of public are usually mentioned as, public ownership or governor for public purpose.  The term public contains all the measurements of human action observed as needing governmental involvement or social directive. Though, there has been battle between what is public and what is private.

The Notion of Policy:  The notion of public, the idea of policy is also not exactly defined. Policy signifies, between other things, guidance for action.

 It might take the procedure of:

1. Commanding conclusion

2. Principle or value

3. Purposive course of action

4. Method of governance

5. Manifestation of considered judgment

6. Look of political rationality

7. Declaration of common goals.

In a Machiavellian sense, policy is the base of power. While bureaucracy derived it legitimacy from its claim to “State”, the politician claimed that their authority rested on the approval of their policies by the electorates.

Hogwood and Gunn specified ten usages of the word policy as:

1. A label for the field of activity

2. An expression of desired state of affairs

3. Specific proposals

4. The decision of governments

5. Formal authorization

6. A programmes

7. Output

8. Outcome

9. A theory or model

10. A process.


Importance of Public Policy

It is evident that the public policy is the significant factor in the democratic government and it emphasizes on the public and its problems, in fact it is a discipline which is branded as public. The concept of public policy assumes that there is an area of life which is totally individual but said in public. Likewise, public policies have a significant purposes to work in the society where the democracy is prevails. The important role of the public policy is to make the society to lead a better life and to maintain the delivery of the goods and services are significant, it is regarded as the mechanism for developing economic-social system, a procedure for determining the future and so on.

Public Policy Examples by Type 

There are four primary types of public policy:

1.   Regulatory

2.   Constituent

3.   Distributive

4.   Redistributive

1. Regulatory Public Policy Examples:

 Laws and regulations that allow a government to clearly define the boundaries of what is allowed versus what is not allowed represent Regulatory Public Policy. This type of public policy places restrictions on what individuals or organizations can do for the purpose of protecting overall economic and social welfare.

a. When courts refuse to enforce contracts related to illegal behavior, such as refusing to enforce a contract for prostitution or a contract to purchase stolen goods, this is an example of a public policy decision. The courts don't want to encourage wrongful behavior like people entering into illegal contracts.

b. When lawmakers pass legislation like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, this is an act that shapes public policy. It shows that there is a priority to provide protection for women.

c. When lawmakers pass legislation protecting workers, instituting wage-and-hour laws and providing enforcement for wage-and-hour laws, this is a public policy decision. The policy is to protect the rights of workers within the society.

d. When a state imposes tough restrictions on abortion, this is reflective of a pro-life public policy position focused on beliefs about when life begins and protecting the rights of the unborn.

e. The issue of gun rights is a matter of public policy. When tougher gun laws are enacted, this is based on a public policy that stricter laws are likely to lower crime and keep guns out of the hands of criminals. When gun laws are looser, this is based on a public policy prioritizing the rights of gun owners and on a belief that restrictive gun laws will not be effective in stopping violence.

f. When courts and legislatures make the decision to legalize same-sex marriage or to make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, they will take into account existing laws and how they are interpreted along with the need for new legislation. They'll consider what they believe benefits the public as a whole, along with cultural ideas on the issue.

2. Constituent Public Policy

Public policy related to how a government is structured is referred to as Constituent Public Policy. This type of public policy relates to the overall structure and form of government, including governmental agencies, procedures and rules.

a. When the U.S. established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, this represented a public policy commitment to preventing terrorism within the country's borders.

b. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) of 1946 is an example of constituent public policy. This law established the procedures that federal regulatory agencies must use when developing, proposing and implementing new regulations. This is why proposed regulations must be posted so that the public can comment on them before a Final Rule can be issued.

d. By establishing the Works Progress Administration in 1935 (as part of the new deal the U.S. government established a structure to put people back to work in federal jobs following the Great Depression. This represented public policy focused on economic recovery.

c. The way a state handles electoral votes is a matter of constituent public policy. In most U.S. states, all of that state's electors for the Electoral College rewarded to the candidates who receive the majority of the vote. In a few states (Maine and Nebraska), electors are allocated proportionally based on the percentage of votes received by each candidate.

d. The procedures used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to declare a disaster, which must happen before FEMA assistance can be deployed to an area impacted by a catastrophic event, represent an example of constituent public policy. Governors often declare a disaster in advance of impact to speed up their state's eligibility for FEMA assistance.

3. Distributive Public Policy

Public policy focused on using government funds to pay for public goods or services is distributive in nature. Distributive Public Policy may directly impact only a certain group of individuals or organizations but generally provide for the common good.

a. The approach that the U.S. federal government took with Covid-19 vaccines reflects distributive public policy. This is why vaccines are available to everyone who wants one at no cost. The vaccines aren't actually free; the federal government is purchasing them and making them available to anyone who wants one without requiring individuals to pay for them.

b. When the U.S. government allocates funds to the Department of Transportation (DOT), which is then distributed to the states, to construct and maintain roads and bridges, this is an example of distributive public policy. Everyone can benefit from this spending.

c.  Federal Department of Education (DOE) funds that are allocated and distributed to state K-12 educational systems in order to help fund primary and secondary schools, this represents distributive public policy.

d. State government that imposes school taxes on citizens to fund their K-12 educational systems are an example of distributive public policy on the state level. Those who live in a certain state pay taxes that are used to fund education that is open to all children who live in the state.

e. When a government uses taxpayer funds to distribute school vouchers to offset the cost of private school, which is a public policy decision backing up the idea of government-funded school choice rather than expecting parents who wish to send their children to private schools to cover the entire cost out-of-pocket.

4. Redistributive Public Policy

Governmental policies that result in redistributing government funds to benefit a particular group within society are examples of Redistributive Public Policy. These policies involve redistributing funds from one group of people to a different group of people.

a. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included several measures designed to provide relief to those who experienced economic injury due to the COFID-19 pandemic. It included Payroll Protection Act Funding limited to businesses that lost 25% or more of their gross revenue due to the pandemic. This represents a redistributive public policy.

b. Programs designed to provide financial support to needy individuals or families are examples of redistributive public policy. Examples include programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program (SNAP).

c. Department of Education (DOE) funds that are distributed to college students in the form of Pell grants and federal student loans to students based on financial need illustrate redistributive public policy. These need-based taxpayer programs are distributed only to those who meet certain financial criteria.

d. When lawmakers impose a progressive tax system, this is based on public policy which indicates that those who make more money should pay more money into the system and those who have less money should pay less into the system. The idea is that those who earn the most money should make a higher contribution to help fund programs for those who earn very little.

e. When income tax is structured such that tax rates are lowered for corporations and wealthy individuals, this reflects a public policy approach rooted in the concept of trickle-down economics. This is based on a belief that if those in the position to create jobs pay less tax, then they'll increase wages or hire more workers, ultimately benefiting those who earn less money.

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