Breaking Promises and Raising Taxes: Rhetorical Path Dependence and Policy Dysfunction in Time

Australian Journal of Political Science

Author/s (editor/s):

Wesley Widmaier

Publication year:

2016

Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Taylor & Francis

Wesley Widmaier, ‘Breaking Promises and Raising Taxes: Rhetorical Path Dependence and Policy Dysfunction in Time’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 51(4) 2016: 727-41.

Where historical institutionalists have stressed the path-dependent efficiencies that stabilise policy orders, their rationalist assumptions have increasingly obscured the scope for instability. To redress such oversights, I integrate historical institutionalist insights regarding incremental change with discursive institutionalist analyses of interpretive tensions in a way that accords with Daniel Kahneman’s analyses of shifting ‘fast’/principled and ‘slow’/cognitive biases. The resulting framework posits that initial principled constructions of policy ideas are undermined where their subsequent ‘intellectual conversion’ limits flexibility and legitimacy. Empirically, I contrast the practices of George HW Bush and John Howard, as each broke anti-tax promises. Bush’s intellectual justifications undermined his credibility, but Howard’s principled justifications enabled his success. This analysis has implications for theories of institutional agency and dysfunction.

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