Aligning Policy Tools and Their Targets

Nudging and Utility Maximization in Policy Design

Authored by: Michael Howlett

Routledge Handbook of Policy Design

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815369189
eBook ISBN: 9781351252928
Adobe ISBN:


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Studies of policy tools traditionally have focused on the effective use of governing resources to attain policy ends, without devoting a great deal of attention to the behavioral characteristics of the objects of policy interventions. These ‘policy targets’ are often assumed to act as rational utility maximizers susceptible to shifts in apparent gains and losses linked to policy incentives and disincentives. Although this orientation is beginning to change with recent work examining policy ‘nudges’ and the effects of co-production and social marketing efforts, which suggest or are based on alternative logics of target behavior, analysis of policy targets still all too often retains a crude concept of self-maximizing behavior on the part of citizens. This thinking has led to many considerations of policy design focusing on the calibrations of policy tools—such as the relative size of penalties or rewards—rather than upon the nature of the tools themselves and whether the appropriate type or mix of tools is being used to match the nature of compliance and co-operation required or demanded by a design situation.

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