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Reading Memo #4

Anh Le
In her seminal work Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, Deborah
Stone challenges the rational approach to analyze policymaking process. She argues that
approach diminishes the role of politics, the importance of values and the
inappropriateness of the market model in conceptualizing the policy process. Stone
instead proposes an alternative model of political reasoning which involves metaphor
making and category making to make sense of political decisions.
The market model and Stones polis model could not be more contrastingly different in
defining societies. First, the market model views society as a system constituting of selfinterest, welfare-maximizing individuals without any collective intention. However,
Stone argues that this is a wrong starting point since public policy only happens in
communities. Therefore, the appropriate unit of analysis should be the community level.
Stone contends that collective intention does exist based on the untold volume of
political philosophy and our own intuitive knowledge.
The second difference in two models is how they conceptualize the nature of human
beings in relations to the bigger society. In the market model, individuals act in their
interest only and compete with others. In contrast, in Stones model, altruism is no less
important a human motive than self-interest and social interaction comes in the forms of
both competition and co-operation. In determining the criteria for individual decisionmaking, Stone also deviates significantly from the market model assumption of
maximizing personal gain. Her criteria are the loyalty to the community and the
promotion of public interest. In Stones model, information necessary for decisionmaking is ambiguous, interpretive, incomplete and strategically manipulated, far from
being perfect as assumed under the market model. Stone posits that the laws of passion
but not laws of matters move the society.
In analyzing a policy issue, both models use the common framework including the goals,
problems and solutions. However, Stone redefines the concepts from mainly a
constructive, multi-dimensional lens. For example, when it comes to a major goal for
public policy such as equality, instead of using a simple definition of same size share for
everybody, she interprets it in multiple ways depending on who gets what, when and
how. She also undermines major assumptions of free market efficiency. In Stones
world, decision-making is not rational as it takes into account emotional, moral and social
considerations; exchange is not always voluntary and government trumps market forces
when it comes to public good. Regarding the problem definition stage, Stone discards its
rationality, clarity, comprehensiveness and objectivity characterized by the rational
model. She describes it as an ambiguous process shaped by a changing political
environment and calculating decision-makers.
Stone also challenges the underlying theories of different policy instruments. In term of
incentives, the rational model assumes that both the giver and target are rational agents
and respond to clear and unambiguous incentives in a forward-looking manner. It also
posits that the desired behavioral change is commensurate with the size of the rewards or

penalties. Stones version of incentives is messier. Giver and target might make
inconsistent decisions; social ties, customs, beliefs and loyalties outweigh incentives;
incentives may have different meanings and paradoxical alliances; rewards might prompt
givers and targets to collude and exploit the system. In a democracy, Stone argues,
incentives might not respect individual autonomy or give individuals more freedom than
other policy tools. To the contrary, incentives interfere with targets autonomy by
inducing behavior change and might as well be coercive. Another major policy
instrument that comes under Stones criticism is rules. Stone also challenges the
assumption about how perfectly rules are designed in the rational model, arguing that
rules are often vague, subject to change and contain perverse incentives.
Stones major contribution to the literature is to point out rightfully the limitations of the
positivist approach to policy analysis. For example, the rational reasoning ignores the role
of ideas, values and emotions in influencing human behaviors while making an
oversimplified assumption of rationality about human nature. However, her alternative
framework from an interpretive approach has its own shortcomings. After all, she does
not construct a comprehensive policy process model or identify the policy issues that
could be analyzed by her framework.