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Politics and Policy

Politics and Policy Economy Near Us (VIII)

No. 7-8, Sep.-Dec. 2017 » Bridging News

In the vernacular language (even, in some cases, the specialized one) some confusions or, at least, some un-intentioned substitutions occur between two terms (and, consequently, between two concepts which belong to them), namely politics and policy. Of course, etymologically the two terms (and concepts) are cognate, based on the Greek term πόλης, polis (castle, home, town, country) but, in the modern and contemporary language and habits of usage, they hold different meanings, and so address different referentials (denotations). Below I would try to identify both the similarities and differences between politics and policy and, consequently, to suggest some precautions in using them in different situations, either cognitive or pragmatic. 


Essentially, by politics one should understand a socially conditioned action of an individual or a group of individuals aggregated under a certain criterion (for example, under an ideology of a party), aimed at achieving a goal affecting the “polis”, that is, affecting the entirety of the nation or the population under a delimitating institutional border. So, what we call politics requires the accomplishment of at least the following attributes:

  1. a) it concerns the fate/destiny of the “polis” (at least as ambition);
  2. b) it is enacted by a distinct social group (no matter the criterion under which the group is constituted);
  3. c) it is ideologically-based (an ideology is a sectoral vision with the ambition to become a general one – for example, Bourdieu’s position);
  4. d) it is un-operational as such and requires operational devices (we will see this attribute allows the connection between politics and policy) to be implemented; this un-operational attribute could be called an embeddedness attribute. We will see that this attribute allows the connection between politics and policy.

Essentially, by policy one should understand a socially conditioned action of a formal institution (NB: I would include into the concept of institution the organization too, either public or private), as vehicle to implement a political purpose. So, what we call policy requires the accomplishment of at least the following attributes:

  1. a) it is politics-based; in the case of private organization (or, even, of individual decision) the policy must always be based if not on politics then at least on a larger policy which, in its turn, is politics-based;
  2. b) it is substitutable by other policy with a comparable potential to achieve the purpose of politics (for example, between fiscal policy and the monetary policy); so, the policies can be „arranged” on a qualitative indifference curve, in order that, based on contextual conditions (resources, institutions, external constraints, idiosyncrasies, etc.) one or another from the policies be selected for implementation;
  3. c) it has as finality a specific, sectoral, maybe punctual objective, but not a general one;
  4. d) it is independent from the politics – although the policy is politics-based, it can be based on any politics, because its specific, sectoral objective could be of the same significance for different politics.

Based on the above specifications on the concepts of politics and policy, I would provide in the paragraphs that follow some examinations of them related to Economics. 

Politics and Economy 

Economy is, at least in the current time, the most important social activity, both for the human being’s survival and for his emancipation. Consequently, the larger part of politics, that is, of the ideological visions, strategies, and programs enacted by the political parties, is aimed at proposing and achieving economic goals, especially in the long term. So, politics and economics are strongly related, connected, and inter-conditioned. When some analysts (be they economists, philosophers, or even politicians) require the lockout of the economy from politics, they can demonstrate, at most, their ignorance of the concepts being used. As shown above, politics has as its fundamental purpose the designing of the general societal model, so, not only is it impossible to ignore the economic field, but the politics must focus on the economic component of the social structure as its sine qua non condition of existence and condition of legitimacy as well. In fact, Economics (as I have claimed many times) must return to its initial roots, so it must re-become a political economy. By political economy, one understands just the inherent connection between politics and Economics. 

Policy and Economy 

Regarding the relationship between policy and economy, I would say the policy is the basic institutional vehicle for introducing and maintaining the rules of the game in the economic process. As said before, the policy is the general term for a set of sectoral policies like: fiscal policy, monetary policy, income policy, employment policy, commercial policy and so on. So, in fact, at the economic level, we meet only the policies, not the politics as such. Different policies ensure that different sectors of economic activity/process go towards their objectives with that rate, at that size and with those externalities about other sectors as the economic theory “prophesizes”. The policies in the economic field are operational instruments (without any ideological ingredients), so any of them could be used (applied) under politics if the targeted economic objective is the same. In other words, I would say the policies are technical tools which are instrumentalized to achieve economic objectives, no matter if such objectives are the results of a political ideology. This definitional neutrality of the policy is crucial to consider it as autonomous in relation to politics. In fact, a policy can be applied by any professionally competent public servant, even if the respective public servant is not interested in politics. For this reason, in the public authorities and institutions there are, in an overwhelming proportion, a permanent staff which is not replaced when political changes occur. 

  1. Politics and Policy 

Based on the above, it can be said that the policies are one of the way in which the politics is implemented at the societal way, every sector of the society having a specific set of policies associated with it. The relationship between politics and policy could be synthetized as follows:

  1. a) the political is inherent in society;
  2. b) the policy is relatively independent from politics; that is, the policy can serve any politics, being an institutional tool to achieve specific and clear objectives;
  3. c) implementing policies could lead to the change of the politics, based on the results obtained, so, there is a feedback from the policy to the politics.

A question arises here: could there be a politics of policy? My answer is negative. Indeed, a policy is a technical tool which necessarily gets a result once it is implemented. So, politics cannot choose a certain policy to achieve a given goal, but only policy is able to achieve the established goal. 

About… Policics 

As argued above, Economics should become a political economics (or political economy) because it is inherently “contaminated” with politics. The current Economics has to do with policy only, but not with politics. In fact, the economic sector of the society is built up based on politics, and even that is done by using the policies as tools. With a terminological barbarism, I would term such a clash of concepts as policics. So, the policics is none else than a policy impregnated by politics. I think, in fact, that exactly such an institution is working in our society, but it is not yet recognized as such. All the social disciplines (with the economic theory in the first row) are policics and should be considered as such.





The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016