Panel at IPPA Annual Conference in Singapore

Pls. distribute widely this call for papers:

Topic : Policy and Politics

Panel Chair : Achim Kemmerling –

Panel Second Chair : MIchael Howlett –

Submit a paper for this panel


The policy literature has long acknowledged the problem of output instability in policy making. Policies which are adopted and implemented might not last long and may be reversed immediately. Cases that come to mind are the introduction and often immediate abolition of private pension schemes in developing and emerging markets, industry nationalizations and privatizations, attention cycles in environmental policy making or swings between benefit cuts and expansions in welfare state policies. These can result in large problems in so far as vital economic, social and political resources are wasted in over and under-reacting compared to a more ‘proportional’ response to social, political or other kinds of concerns.


There are numerous approaches explaining this kind of policy instability. Rational choice scholars, for example, have long analyzed cases of problematic preference aggregation of individuals and groups and the cyclical policies of partisan-electoral pandering that may follow (Riker 1982; McFarland 1991). Valence issues have also been a long-standing topic in political science research (Beland and Cox 2011).  Institutional researchers have been concerned with when and why policy instability is more likely than stability in outputs (Tsebelis 2002). Many researchers have also detected cycles in issue attention which culminate in ups and downs of policy making (Downs 1972; Vries 2010; Jones and Baumgartner 2005). Public policy scholars have long illustrated the structural and psychological roots that lead to well known of patterns of punctuated equilibria (Jones and Baumgartner 2004). Moreover, this instability is often found in combination with excesses in terms of amplitude, i.e. they are signs and consequences of instances of disproportionate policy responses (Jones, Thomas, and Wolfe 2014; Maor 2012, 2014). Important examples are bubbles in financial markets or any other form of excessive under- or over-addressing of policy problems.


Yet, much is to be desired in our understanding of such phenomena. The panel seeks to engage these different literatures with each other and to better understand when and what types of output instability are most likely to emerge in which circumstances. What types of excessive instability do we see in public policy making and how are they related to each other? What are the context conditions of, say attention cycles, and how do they interact with other forms of cyclicality? Are they major causes or often mere consequences of deeper rooted structural problems? What real-world consequence do we see in important issue areas such as environmental policies, the welfare state or regulation? And what solutions do we see in mitigating excessive forms of instability and the prospects for more ‘efficient’ policy-making?


Beland, Daniel, and Robert Henry Cox, eds. 2011. Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Downs, Anthony. 1972. The issue-attention cycle. The Public Interest 28:38-50.

Jones, Bryan D., and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2004. A Model of Choice for Public Policy. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 15 (3):325-351.

———. 2005. The Politics of Attention. How Governments Prioritize Problems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jones, Bryan D., Herschel F.  III Thomas, and Michelle  Wolfe. 2014. Policy Bubbles. Policy Studies Journal 42 (1):146-171.

Maor, Moshe. 2012. Policy overreaction. Journal of Public Policy 32 (3):231-259.

———. 2014. Policy Bubbles: Policy Overreaction and Positive Feedback. Governance 27 (3):469-487.

McFarland, Andrew S. 1991. Interest Groups and Political Time: Cycles in America. British Journal of Political Science 21 (3):257-284.

Riker, William. 1982. Liberalism against populism : a confrontation between the theory of democracy and the theory of social choice. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.

Tsebelis, George. 2002. Veto Players. How Political Institutions Work. New York

New Jersey: Russell Sage Foundation/ Princeton UP.

Vries, Michiel S. de. 2010. The Importance of Neglect in Policy-Making: Palgrave/ Macmillan.




This panel revisits an old problem of public policy, cases of chronic, excessive forms of instability in policy outputs. Chronic and excessive forms of output instability pose serious problems for policy making in numerous areas: economic reforms, climate change, regulation etc. While some of the theories and approaches addressing this kind of policy instability date back in time, our systematic understanding of what makes public policies fluctuate is still underdeveloped. We seek contributions from diverse policy areas dealing with theoretical and empirical problems of output instability. Leading questions this panel wants to address are: When and how do we see and define pathological instances of instability in public policy-making, such as severe over- and under-reactions? What forms do they take (long stability plus abrupt changes, boom-or-bust cycles, pendulum swings and oscillations etc.)? What are the driving forces of these forms of instability (punctuate equilibrium models, attention cycles, problems of preference aggregation etc.)? And what consequences does this instability have?


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