Workshop: “Policy-Making in Hard Times”

How does the recent economic and financial crisis in Europe (2007-2013) impact on policy-making? Did the EU dismantle policies in recent years? What is the impact of austerity measures on the Southern member states? And how could one actually measure the policy impact of the crisis across countries and policy fields?

These were some of the questions that a mixed group of young and experienced scholars of public policy engaged with during a recent workshop on “Policy-Making in Hard Times” in Barcelona. Jointly organized by Prof. Dr. Christoph Knill and his team, LMU Munich, as well as by the IBEI in Barcelona, and funded by the DAAD – the workshop provided a unique environment to discuss individual research projects and the general theme of crisis effects.

In my contribution to the workshop I focused on a potential case of a fascinating “cross-policy compensation effect” – meaning a change in policy field A caused by a change in policy field B. Following up on our research in the project “The Politics of Law and Order”, I explored whether a thesis by the reknowned US-crimologist Loic Wacquant holds true in the “most likely setting” of the recent economic crisis in Europe.

Wacquant offers a straightforward explanation for the link or pattern between welfare state retrenchment and security policy expansion confirmed on the macro level by comparative criminology and political economy (click here, for a recent study by Georg Wenzelburger). In the paper, presented at the workshop, I calculated several statistical models using different measurements of policy change in both fields – including the legislation data collected during the project “The Politics of Law and Order”. In addition, a case study of a single piece of budget policy, UK’s Spending Review 2010, which I also analyze in the project “The Political Economy of Private Security”, served to test for the causal mechanism suggested by Wacquant on the micro level.

In sum, neither the quantitative nor the qualitative approach were able to confirm the presence of a cross-policy compensation effect modelled according to Wacquant in Europe, before, amidst, or after the economic crisis. Although the study is still very much preliminary and deserves further scrutiny, it suggests to look elsewhere for alternative causal mechanisms explaining the pattern of parallel developments in the welfare and security state.

Helge Staff

[photo by Dionys Zink, graphic by Helge Staff]