The economic policy and special interest groups

Yet another sub-group that influences the economic policy decision-making process is special interest groups. Individuals with similar interests form a special interest group which makes them more powerful in influencing the decision-making on economic policy and other issues. The beneficial factors of special interest groups within context of economic policy decision making is supported by pluralism, which is a model of economic policy making.

Special interest groups that exert an influence on economic policy decision-making include three main sub-groups:

  • organized business groups
  • non-governmental organizations
  • organized labor groups

Examples of organized business groups include organized business and agriculture. Examples of non-governmental groups include educational and welfare organizations. Examples of organized labor groups include trade unions.

Other interest groups that exert an influence on economic policy decision-making include international financial organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as media and foreign governments.

Some individuals hold the opinion that special interest groups are excessive in their quantity and pressure on the government to influence decisions concerning economic policy. They feel that such pressure and “disproportionate” influence only complicates and slows down the decision-making process with regards to the economic policy.

Nevertheless, each special interest group is an important constituent influencing government with regards to economic policy decision-making process. According to pluralism, one of the models of economic policy making, the role of each interest group is crucial along with roles of a technocrat, a political leader and a bureaucrat.

On the flip side of the coin, special interest groups are also seen to have a beneficial influence within context of economic policy decision making. They serve as a watchdog of the government’s actions (e.g. actions of politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats) and of building important networks within communities or regions.

 

A bureaucrat and bureaucrat’s role in setting the economic policy

A bureaucrat is a constituent of a bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is usually means governments but can also refer to specific organizations. As an example, a large private organization is also a bureaucracy and an individual working for such an entity is a bureaucrat.

Bureaucrat, as a word, originated from the French word bureau, which means “desk”. This name was selected because bureaucrats are seen as individuals who work behind the desk.

However, here we are concerned with a bureaucrat who is an employee of the government and an economic policy decision-making participant.

A bureaucrat is an agent of a political leader (principal) and he or she implements policy choices of politicians. One of the big differences between a politician and a bureaucrat is that the latter is appointed and the former is elected. Some bureaucrats are technocrats. Technocrats are professionals, such as economists and engineers, who advise politicians on the areas of their expertise. For example, economists may advise on economic policy choices.

Bureaucrats are often driven by motives other than being a faithful servant (agent) of politicians (principals). A bureaucrat is a human being with his or her own agendas, desires and ambitions. Along with meritorious motives, he or she may be driven to maximize income, status and power or to advance his or her career.

In the economic theory, it is assumed that a bureaucrat is driven to maximize his or her budget. This occurs because the bigger the budget that a bureaucrat controls, the bigger the perceived power and the status and, thus, satisfaction of a bureaucrat.

Therefore, bureaucrats have an incentive to arrange for a budget which is above the optimal (most effective) budget level and this leads to excessive spending by government. In the pursuit of enlarging the budget, a bureaucrat may exaggerate benefits and downplay costs and threats.

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A political leader and his role in setting the economic policy

The word Politician, a political leader, originated from the Greek word “Polis”. A politician is an individual who affects public decisions, such as decisions on the economic policy. A politician is either an individual who already serves in a government or which seeks to be elected to serve their nation or community.

The role of a politician in setting the economic policy is very prominent. According to standard economic theory, technocrats (e.g. economists) provide recommendations on the economic policy choices to a political leader who, in turn, make economic policy choices which are implemented by a bureaucrat.

Therefore, a politican is actually involved in making the economic policy choices. This is different from bureaucrats who implement the policy choices of politicians.

A politician, as a role player in the government, earns some resentment from the general public due to the perception that politicians are driven by desire to maximize votes for their next election rather than by serving the interests of the public. This is, of course, true in some cases and not in others.

Political business cycle theories (models)


A politician is a human being and has feelings, dreams, goals, desires and agendas, like any other person from any walk of life. Therefore, it is only natural that a politician may be driven by a personal agenda. This must always be kept in mind. Especially since standard economic theory assumes that a political leader is driven by the goal of enhancing the well-being of a nation rather than by desire of personal gains.

Some economic theories, however, attempt to explain a politician’s actions as guided by attempt to maximize votes. Such theories are called political business cycle theories. Political business cycle theories are further subdivided into the partisan model and opportunistic model.

PARTISAN MODEL

Based on a politician being a “partisan” of the party that he or she belongs to. Each party has different priorities and those priorities will significantly influence the economic policy decisions.

OPPORTUNISTIC MODEL

This theory was first proposed by Nordhaus. Nordhaus suggests that his proposed theory rests on 3 assumptions:

1 – The main goal of a politician is to stay in the office

2 – The current performance of the economy will affect election

3 – A politician has strong incentives to make economic policy decisions which will lead to expansionary monetary and fiscal policy to expand performance of the economy in the short run. This will be followed by contractionary monetary and fiscal policies to combat inflation (which occurred due to expansionary policies).

The criticism of the opportunistic model arises because it is unlikely that a political leader will be able to effectively manipulate economic performance in the short-term.

Empirical evidence does not explicitly and completely support models of the political business cycle.

 

The economic policy decisions: who is behind them?

We mentioned in the introduction to the economic policy that economic policy is a purposeful action (or purposeful non-action) by the government with the intent to affect economic behavior with the goal of achieving certain outcomes which will improve the material well-being of society. However, of what does government consists? Who really makes the decisions on economic policy?

It is generally accepted in the conventional economic theory that economists (technocrats) advice politicians with regard to the economic policy choices. Politicians than make economic policy choices which are implemented by public workers (bureaucrats).

Each of these sub-groups of the government have their own motivation behind making certain policy decisions and their motives must be recognized. A political leader (policy maker), for example, is generally motivated to increase his or her votes and to stay in the power. A bureaucrat is usually motivated to increase his or her budget which will increase his or her power.

Government sub-groups consist of real people with their own agendas, motives and goals, which are sometimes not aligned with the assumption the government always acts in the national interest with the goal of achieving economic stability and prosperity. This will distort the effectiveness and appropriateness of the economic policy choices.

Now let’s take a look at some sub-groups of the government which are involved in economic policy decision making.

In the articles that follow we will take a closer look at different groups which influence economic policy decisions. We will particularly discuss a political leader’s role and political business cycle theories. We will also take a closer look at the role of a bureaucrat, including the role of a technocrat, and their role in the economic policy decision making. Lastly we will address the role of the special interest groups within the context of their influence on the economic policy decision making.

Later, when we will discuss four models of economic policy making, we will look at the role of each constituent within each model in more aggregated format. However, we will start from looking at their roles in isolation:

The role of a political leader in setting economic policy is very prominent. According to standard economic theory, technocrats (economists) provide recommendations on economic policy choices to a political leader or group of politicians who, in turn, make economic policy choices which are implemented by bureaucrats.

The role of a bureaucrat in setting economic policy is instrumental. A bureaucrat is an individual who essentially implements economic policy set by politicians.

Special interest groups that exert an influence on economic policy decision-making include three main sub-groups: organized business groups, non-governmental organizations and organized labor groups.

***

You may read this related article entitled “Who is behind Bush economic policy” for deeper understanding of how economic policy decisions are made in the real world.

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The economic policy

The economic policy is a purposeful action (or purposeful non-action) by government with the intent to affect economic behavior with the goal of achieving certain outcomes which will improve the material well-being of society.

Policy, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as the “course or general plan of action adopted by government”.

There are active and passive elements in economic policy:

Active element occurs when purposeful action is planned and implemented.

Passive element occurs when policy makers purposefully decide not to take any action with regards to specific economic problems.

Three types of objectives are important for economic policy.

These objectives are macroeconomic, sectoral or microeconomic in nature. Because of the scarcity of resources available, only some of the goals can be achieved and, therefore, ranking of the goals in terms of priority may be necessary when making choices with regards to economic policy.

Macroeconomic objectives of economic policy attend to issues that affect economy as a whole. Examples are combating unemployment, poverty and inflation, enhancing economic growth and achieving balance of payments stability.

Microeconomic objectives of economic policy attend to issues that affect specific individual entities within the economy, such as individual organizations. Microeconomic objectives of economic policy also attend to issues which affect particular markets. An example of the microeconomic objective of economic policy may be addressing negative externalities in the market.

Sectoral objectives of economic policy may include:

1 – Development of economic and social sectors. Economic sectors include such sectors as manufacturing, mining and construction and social sectors include health and education.

2 – Cross-sectoral development (eg promoting foreign trade) and multi-sectoral development (developing regions of the country).