Ministries and Inequality in Policy -Making: Analyzing the Role and Crucial Redistributive Impact of Individual Ministries in Policy-Making

About this Session


Fri. 12.04.'24 10:40



Abstract :

Policy-making arguably is the most important tool governments have at hand to influence patterns of inequality. We know that policy-making is a complex business, involving many actors: political, economic, and social. While scholars have studied the politics of policy-making for decades, we know surprisingly little about the role of individual ministries policy-making in general, and regarding their distributional effects on inequality in particular. Public administration research, in contrast, emphasizes the crucial role of ministries and bureaucracies in politics, but usually focuses on organizational or managerial aspects, not exploring distributive dynamics.

We argue that and why individual ministries crucially shape policies’ content, particularly their distributive profiles. We explain that and why it matters whether for example a Ministry of Finance, of Labor, or of Home Affairs designs a policy. First, we systematically review existing literature on the factors that influence preferences of ministries and their respective power in policy-making. Second, we develop a theory explaining that and why ministries have substantive policy impact, pointing at selection, socialization, and stakeholder interaction as three crucial mechanisms. Using these mechanisms, we distinguish three “logics” and argue that whether a ministry follows a “Social”, “Efficiency”, and “Law-and-Order” Logic has crucial implications for the type of policies it designs.

Third, we offer empirical evidence: Using the least likely case of Germany, we introduce a novel content-coded dataset on all social policies in the Bundestag since 1969, showing with fixed-effects regressions that ministries shape policies’ distributive profiles, even when controlling for rival explanations (such as party affiliations of ministers and cabinets, policy fields, cabinet characteristics). Ministries following the Social Logic are much more likely to design inequality-reducing policies than ministries following an Efficiency or Law-and-order logic – even within the very same government and policy field.

These findings have important implications for our understanding of the politics of inequality, for representation and responsiveness. To name but one example, the findings imply that ministries (and bureaucracies more generally) are a powerful and decisive actor in the politics of inequality although they are – unlike politicians – not democratically elected and accordingly not politically accountable. We conclude by developing a research agenda on ministerial politics, including intraministerial and interministerial dynamics.