One of the things that I tell my students ever year in the Policy-Making Processes course is that there are, very broadly speaking, two ways in which policy may be made: In a programmatic fashion, or in a particularistic fashion. The good old “pork barrel” is an example of particularism.
As Chris notes, when politicians, commentators, or regular citizens label government spending programs, “one manâ€™s pork is another manâ€™s necessary infrastructure project.”
But then Chris adds the kicker, with respect to post-Katrina projects like rebuilding the Ponchartrain bridge as a 6-lane highway and other big “revitalization” spending (which Porkbusters are trying to have Congress appropriate money for instead of projects like the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere“):
a real â€œporkbusterâ€ would favor letting the FHWA bureaucracy, not Congress, decide where the money would best be spent.
This is the crux of the matter. If policy specialists in the bureaucracy are given fairly wide leeway to apply their expertise and merit criteria in determining which projects should have priority, we are probably looking at programmatic policy-making. If, on the other hand, committees of politicians are establishing which projects will have priority, we are almost certainly looking at particularism/pork.
It is worth adding, however, that bureaucracies can also produce pork. It depends on the authority that has been delegated by their political principalsâ€”whether to implement the broad program of the governing majority or to reflect the preferences of politicians’ particular organized or localized constituencies. (This is “structural politics,” as Moe and Caldwell call it; that reference to a reading is for the benefit of my students).
Sometimes it is a fine lineâ€”and it clearly is a continuumâ€”but the distinction between these two basic types of policy-making comes down to the extent of specific political criteria imposed on the bureaucracy. And that extent, of course, depends on how the politicians build their own election/reelection constituencies.
Follow-up post related to this theme:
Security funding: Pork vs. programmatic policy? (October 30, 2005)