State-Centered Perspectives of the Policy Formation Process
From the state-centered perspective, the state is able to hold the most political power because they are not faced with the same forces of competition as the capitalist class (Block 1980). The capitalist class isn't cohesive because capitalists have competing interest. Due to the bureaucratic role of state managers, they are the group most likely to act cohesively (Block 1980). State managers are professionals with technical expertise seeking a career within a bureaucracy which has written rules and goals (Weber 1946). They are also members of a professional network with shared interests, which facilitates class consciousness. Since state mangers have technical expertise, shared interest and class consciousness, they control the policy formation process.
Since state-centered theorists assume state managers and structures determine public policy, they focus on the actions of state managers and state structures (Evans, Reuschemeyerand Skocpol 1985; Orloff and Skocpol 1984; Weir, Orloff and Skocpol 1988). For example, Hooks (1990) conducts a historical comparative analysis of the USDA during separate time periods, focusing on state structures. He finds state structures established during World War II played a major role in the perpetuating the influence of the American Farm Bureau Federation to influence the USDA during the post-war period. Other state-centered theorists examine the influence of state structures on social outcomes. For instance, Dobbin (1992) finds the rise of fringe benefits is related to the 1939 amendments to the Social Security Act. State structures provided benefits for corporations to adopt pension programs. In short, state-centered research focuses on the influence of state structures on policy outcomes.
By focusing just on state managers and state structures, state-centered perspectives are limited. State-centered perspectives largely ignore the actions of groups external to the state. By only examining data regarding the actions and structures within the state, the data can only led to the conclusion that the state constitutes the political process, independent from external social forces.
Society-Centered Perspectives of the Policy Formation Process
Elite theory claims an inner circle of business elites control the political process. Elite theorists have demonstrated how in individual races, business elites act cohesively; they follow similar corporate PAC giving strategies (Clawson, Neustadtl and Bearden 1986). Corporate PACs are powerful political tools which provide capitalist elites with disproportionate access and influence in the political process (Clawson, Neustadtl and Scott 1992) . The political behavior of individual capitalists is influenced by class faction and inner-circle membership (Burris 2001). The cohesive political action of the business elites is facilitated by indirect interlocking through finance institutions along with direct interlocks of board of directors (Mizruchi 1989). Business elites with long-term relationships with the state (e.g., oil producing and aerospace firms) politically unify to manage resource dependence (Mizruchi 1987) and minimize uncertainty (Boies 1989). Furthermore, elite social movement organizations shape the political process (Boies and Pichardo 1993). In short, although they may have competing interests, an inner circle of capitalist elites acts cohesively to control the political process.
According to class theory, the state is relatively autonomous (Poulantzas 1973). From this perspective, the structure of the state is embedded within the economic structure, determined by capitalist class contradictions and conflict. For example, Quadagno (1984) demonstrates how the Social Security Act of 1935 is the result of competing class factions forming a power bloc necessary to control the political process. From this perspective, the state is a mediating body, negotiating the interests of competing class factions while implementing working-class demands within capitalist terms.
Whereas class theory and elite theory emphasize the power of economic elites, pluralists contend the power of economic elites is low because they are divided due to competition. From the pluralist perspective, the state serves as a mediator between numerous competing interest groups. No single group dominates the political process.
There are benefits and pitfalls associated with society-centered perspectives. Since society-centered theorists assume social forces influence the state, their analysis tends to include the actions of groups internal and external to the state. For example, Quadagno's (1990) historical case study of Nixon's proposal for a Family Assistance Plan examines the actions of state managers along with class struggles. Even though society-centered theorists examine the state along with external interest groups, the theory is still limited because it does not explain events when the state is able to act autonomously. There is evidence of historical events when state autonomy has occurred (Evans, Reuschemeyerand Skocpol 1985). For instance, in my study of the Texas oil and gas industry, I found state managers were able to change the application of flaring regulation by reclassifying white-water oil as natural gas and overcome capitalist opposition in the courts. Society-centered perspectives fail to account for these historical events.
Historical Contingency Perspective of the Policy Formation Process
Historical contingency theory emphasizes the historical conditions affecting the distribution of power (Prechel 1990). The autonomy of state managers and dominance of capitalist class factions are viewed as ideal types within a continuum affected by historical conditions (Prechel 1990). Under particular historical conditions, state autonomy is more prevalent and capitalist control is less prevalent. Under other historical conditions, power blocs are more likely to unify such that capitalist control is more prevalent and state autonomy is less prevalent.
From the historical contingency theory perspective, business unity varies over time (Akard 1992). The historical conditions affecting business power include economic downturns, war and expanding state structures (Prechel 1990). The state and corporations are organizations that need resources and legitimacy to survive. Business political power is related to capital-dependence (Morris 2005). When historical conditions increase capital-dependence and uncertainty (like during economic downturns and war), corporations mobilize around prevailing public policy to form a power bloc necessary to change public policy to better suit capitalist interests.
Historical contingency theory resolves the state-centered versus society-centered debate by conceptualizing state autonomy and class dominance as ideal types whose explanatory power is influenced by historical conditions. Historical contingency theory emphasizes historical contexts, the state and external interest groups. From this perspective, the state is influenced by its own structure, along with its external environment (Prechel 1991). Historically contingent external conditions are critical to the analysis since the state can be transformed by capitalists and social movements (Quadagno 1992). In short, historical contingency theory is able to merge state-centered and society-centered perspectives and overcome theoretical shortcomings by emphasizing the state, society and historical context.
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