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Has Three Decades of Comparative Public Policy Scholarship Been Focusing on the Wrong Question?
The essential argument of this paper is that, despite the work of many pioneering scholars, the original agenda of those who came to comparative public policy with a view to demonstrating that the functioning of democratic politics makes a difference remains substantially unfulfilled. The substance of that agenda was to show that choices made through the ballot box influenced not only what governments did, but also had implications for important aspects of the lives of the citizens making those choices. One important reason for this failure was that much of the emergent quantitative literature came to focus on differences in government outputs as proxies for whether such differences translated into a diversity of real outcomes. In effect, the literature tried to settle the question of whether ‘politics matters’ by showing how politics shapes what governments do without asking the no less important question: does government matter? This paper seeks to model a diverse range of outcomes with a view to assessing the impact of both political and government spending and taxing variables. On the basis of that assessment, I argue that the challenge for the next generation of political science informed comparative policy research is to go beyond an examination of the link between political choice and the outputs of government to ask questions about – and ideally to begin to map – the linkages between the things governments do and the lives their citizens experience.
No. 155/2011
Francis G. Castles

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