The Public Interest

The Spirit of Public Policy

Daniel Casse

Summer 1987

GOVERNMENT has few friends these days. Over the past two decades, we are told, a “confidence gap” has developed between American citizens and the institutions that serve them. This lack of confidence goes far beyond the traditional distrust of government.  To the most cynical observer of politics, government produces little more than waste, fraud, and abuse; politicians and civil servants are but mere bureaucrats seeking only their own advancement.  The noble goal of Steven Kelman’s Making Public Policy is to save government from these cynics. Subtitled “A Hopeful View of Government,” his book is a very rosy view of government indeed. In examining how a government makes policy, he finds not only that government should work but that it does work. He evaluates the process of policy making against two standards: the ability to produce good public policy; and the effect the process has in promoting the dignity and molding the character of the citizenry. The key to a successful government, explains Kelman, is “public spirit.” And as he guides the reader through the institutions and mechanisms of the public-policy process, Kelman attempts to show that public spirit pervades the system, making the formation of good public policy a reasonable and attainable goal.

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