Introduction: Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy

Julian Le Grand

in Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy

Published in print September 2003 | ISBN: 9780199266999
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600869 | DOI:
Introduction: Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy

Show Summary Details


Assumptions concerning human motivation—the internal desires or preferences that incite action—and agency—the capacity to undertake that action—are key to both the design and the implementation of public policy. So, for instance, a policy instrument designed on the assumption that people are motivated primarily by their own self‐interest—that they are, in the words of David Hume quoted at the beginning of the book, knaves—would be quite different from one constructed on the assumption that people are predominantly public‐spirited or altruistic: that they are what we might term, in contrast to knaves, knights. Similarly, a policy that took no account of individuals’ capacity for independent action—one that treated those working in the public sector or those who received its benefits as passive victims of circumstance, or pawns—would be different from one that treated workers or recipients as active agents, i.e. not as the least powerful piece on the chessboard, the pawn, but as the most powerful, the queen. This chapter illustrates these propositions by reference to the evolution of the British welfare state since World War II, showing how it was initially designed to be run by knights for the benefit of pawns, but became one intended to be run by knaves for the benefit of queens.

Keywords: agency; altruism; British welfare state; motivation; public policy; quasi‐markets; self‐interest

Chapter.  9379 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Economics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.