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Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  821 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Policy making is a political struggle over values and ideas. By exposing the paradoxes that underlie even seemingly straightforward policy decisions, Policy Paradox shows students that politics cannot be cleansed from the process in favor of rationality. Author Deborah Stone has fully revised and updated this popular text, which now includes many paradoxes that have arisen ...more
Paperback, 408 pages
Published December 16th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1997)
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3.81  · 
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 ·  821 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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Steven Peterson
Nov 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deborah Stone's "Policy Paradox" is an important work in the field of policy analysis. The subtitle is illuminating: "The Art of Political Decision Making." Her takeoff point is the following statement (pages x-xi): "This new field of policy analysis supposedly devoted to improving governance, was based on a profound disgust for the ambiguities and paradoxes of politics. . . . In rational analysis, everything has one and only one meaning." In her own words, she (page xi) ". . .wrote this book to ...more
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone studying public policy
I am not entirely sure how to rate a book like this. I personally found it illuminating since it was my first real taste for a public policy book. However, I suppose my judgment could differ if I had been exposed to many other books on the same subject. That being said, within the context with which I read this book I enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. I think one of the clearest points driven home for me is how contradictory it is to even attempt to call the study of human behavior a science ...more
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written text--full of humor and grappling with contradictions--that deftly reveals some of the major flaws in a traditional economics-based analysis of public policy. Stone doesn't so much propose an alternative model, however. Her critique is powerful, but it's hard to say where exactly to go from there.

Stone suggests that the economics-based model neglects several aspects of our "polis" that cannot be accounted for in traditional policy analysis. We are asked to think more broadl
Sep 27, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in an analysis of politician-speak
This book sets out to explain American politics through the model of the "polis" and contrast this analysis with the model of the "rational market" of politics. Broadly speaking, she feels that her polis theory better captures the "paradoxes" that occur in politics and political movements, and she feels that the market theory fails to explain these paradoxes or explains them incorrectly. To my reading, however, what she describes as paradoxes are really just effects of the fact that society is n ...more
Jun 09, 2016 rated it liked it
I was hoping for prescription but wound up instead with a whole lot of description. This would be good as a textbook, but only for an introductory policy course.

I did enjoy the various comparisons between the Rationality/Market model and then her Polis model, which I read mostly as Ms. Stone gently reminding free market economists that reality works somewhat differently than their Invisible Hand fantasy.

In that sense the book is solid: it mildly chides political and economic theorists for worki
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Machiavelli for the 21rst century. (It applies mostly/best to American politics.)
Although I sort of dislike some of the cheap relativist conclusions she draws, such as 'because numbers are political instruments meant to convince, they are just one way among many to do so, and not at all holy, and may even go out of fashion again at some later date,' which just seems silly. Potential for abuse because people don't notice that they're being misused/misled/shown an incomplete picture does not equat
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good book for all those interested to learn about how the values of liberty, efficiency, equity, security and welfare of a community conflict in a policy implementation. Below is the link for
Chapter 2- the famous example of the chocolate cake division among few recipients.
I was very well impressed with Deborah's thoughtful analysis for each course of action.
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like politics and you want a general tool box of the policy making process, this is the book for you. This book does get a little long winded but I think the writing is very well rounded and is willing to look at all sides regardless of how boarding it gets.
Kate Ditzler
Read four chapters of this for my State and Local Policy Analysis class. They were vital chapters to understanding how to analyze policy; I'm thinking about turning each concept into a blog post, a sort of "MPP in a Blog" series.
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Makes the concepts and theories of policy analysis accessible.
Aug 23, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
I found this book difficult to read purely due to the amount of heavy handed rhetoric. It's not as bad as a Michael Moore documentary but it's definitely preaching to the choir.
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great introductory text to public policy. I love the examples that Stone uses that really illustrate how the public debate is framed.
Chris Reid
Nov 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An application of behavioral science and reasoning to policy cases. Convincing, entertaining, accessible, and reasonably well-supported.
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, government, mpa
Fascinating - loved it.
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A critical approach to the more traditional rational choice model for policy development, Stone sets up a readable argument that will make you reconsider how and why you think about policy.
Chad Foster
Stone explores in depth the way that governments formulate policy - not the structure and procedure, but the thinking. The most compelling ideas that shine through this sometimes dense text are (1) the concept of a political community (or “polis,” as Stone calls it); (2) how emotion almost always trumps rationality when it comes to policy decisions; and (3) the way that policy choices are largely a product of perspective. This latter point is, perhaps, the foundational thread of the book’s argum ...more
Although this book can be a bit challenging and dry at times, it is interesting to read how political policies are molded and how they affect society. An interesting read that made me really think on political powers and policy making.
Raj Agrawal
Some common sense ideas on the tensions inherent in decision making and policy development. A chore to read — overly repetitive, but a necessary discussion for any leader to wrestle with.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a classic book on how policies work in the polis (real world). A must read for all policy advocates .
Jared Knowles
A must read on policy analysis. For all levels. And a must re-read as well.
Jun 03, 2019 rated it did not like it
A failed attempt to be subtly biased.
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whatever, I loved it.
Randy Painter
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must-read for graduate level policy analysis students, this serves as a good supplemental text for undergrad courses. There may be certain sections that are more applicable than others so instructors may want to assign only these sections. Stone's book is very comprehensive and covers all the relevant information that prospective analysts should consider.
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Deborah Stone is a policy goddess. Her argument is essentially that everything involved with the formation of policy is a social construct. She says, instead of trying to rationalize policy, which is fundamentally biased, embrace the bias and ambiguity!

Think of numbers as a form of poetry. "No number is innocent, for it is impossible to count without making judgements about categorization. Every number is a political claim." Counting is a political act!

Policy is about classification and deciding
Nov 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Stone compares two views of the political process: the market view and the "polis" view. However, her treatment of each view is laughably biased. She sets up the market view as a straw man of an Econ 101 class--completely ignoring the rich literature of Social Choice Economics of Buchanan and others. Similarly, she plays up this polis model as less of a model and more as the end-all-be-all monopoly of truth. However, her polis model lacks the robustness to really be useful to analyze and answer ...more
Leif Kurth
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you have any interest in how policy decisions should be undertaken, and occasionally are, from soup to nuts, Stone lays out the essential ingredients in public policy inner-workings. She starts by defining "The Market and The Polis" and then goes on to underscore the differences in the achieved ends, based on how goals are defined, problems are interpreted, and solutions are offered. Stone differs from the more traditional top-down take on how issues are raised as well as how public policy sh ...more
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't normally post a review of academic works to Goodreads because I don't think it's what most people are looking for, but Deborah Stone's "Policy Paradox" was an excellent read in the realm of public policy. At a time when the fields of both political science and public policy are being overrun by authors who believe quantitative techniques and research are the Holy Grail of academia, it was eminently refreshing to see an author so boldly embrace qualitative methodology. Stone's central the ...more
Nick Klagge
Sep 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the main text for my Intro to Public Policy class at NYU. When I bought it, my plan was to sell it back to Amazon at the end of the semester, but now I am planning to keep it. I greatly enjoyed reading it and found myself taking down copious notes whenever reading it. Stone's writing style fits a great deal of meaningful content into every paragraph, without being at all dense. Her main goal is to critique the "market model" of policy, and detail the specific ways and reasons in which i ...more
Rachel Matsuoka
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, overall pretty engaging text highlighting the complexity of what goes into making policy. It ended with a well-presented case study on affirmative action that analyzed the arguments for and against it, which for me was a highlight of the book. It urges readers to not look at policy as black and white, or good and evil (imo one of the annoying pitfalls of heads of state and journalists) but as shades of grey. Policy Paradox debunks generalization and the unrealistic simplification ...more
Mar 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Okay, so maybe I skimmed the last 40 pages of this (it's the end of the semester, what do you want from me?), but it's still a really good book - a well-written analysis of how to think about social policy on a human level more than the more conventional economic approach that often labels itself as "rational" even when it's based on a series of unrealistic assumptions about the way people actually make choices and live their lives. Stone's book is a bit overwhelming in its scope but it's smart ...more
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“People are naturally hardworking but will stop working hard at anything if they learn from experience that their effort makes no difference.” 3 likes
“Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants," wrote Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. In the original and primary sense of lacks or needs, wants tend to structure our vision of government's responsibilities. The quest for security - whether economic, physical, psychological, or military - brings a sense of urgency to politics and is one of the enduring sources of passion in policy controversies.

Need is probably the most fundamental political claim. Even toddlers know that need carries more weight than desire or deservingness. They learn early to counter a rejected request by pleading, "I need it." To claim need is to claim that one should be given the resources or help because they are essential. Of course, this raises the question "essential for what?" In conflicts over security, the central issues are what kind of security government should attempt to provide; what kinds of needs it should attempt to meet; and how the burdens of making security a collective responsibility should be distributed.

Just as most people are all for equity and efficiency in the abstract, most people believe that society should help individuals and families when they are in dire need. But beneath this consensus is a turbulent and intense conflict over how to distinguish need from mere desire, and how to preserve a work - or - merit based system of economic distribution in the face of distribution according to need. Defining need for purposes of public programs become much an exercise like defining equity and efficiency. People try to portray their needs as being objective, and policymakers seek to portray their program criteria as objective, in order to put programs beyond political dispute. As with equity and efficiency, there are certain recurring strategies of argument that can be used to expand or contract a needs claim.

In defense policy, relative need is far more important than absolute. Our sense of national security (and hence our need for weapons) depends entirely on comparison with the countries we perceive as enemies. And here Keynes is probably right: The need for weapons can only be satisfied by feeling superior to "them." Thus, it doesn't matter how many people our warheads can kill or how many cities they can destroy. What matters is what retaliatory capacity we have left after an attack by the other side, or whether our capacity to sustain an offense is greater than their capacity to destroy it. The paradox of nuclear weapons is that the more security we gain in terms of absolute capability (i.e., kill potential), the more insecure we make ourselves with respect to the consequences of nuclear explosions. We gain superiority only by producing weapons we ourselves are terrified to use.”
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