The Power of Ideas: The OECD and Labour Market Policy in Canada, Denmark and Sweden
Grinvalds, Holly S.
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This thesis advances our understanding of how ideas play a role in policy making by examining the processes and conditions that facilitate their international diffusion into domestic debates, their acceptance by policy actors, and the ways in which their acceptance alters policy processes and policy itself. Specifically, the thesis studies the impact of labour market policy ideas from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its large-scale study on unemployment, the Jobs Study, in three OECD member states: Canada, Denmark and Sweden. This thesis shows that ideas play a number of roles: sometimes they are simply employed to help legitimize pre-determined policy positions; but sometimes a process of learning takes place, and new ideas change actors’ beliefs about what is and what ought to be, and as well their conception of their own interests and goals. Consistent with previous research, policy failure and uncertainty open actors up to the policy learning process and acceptance of new ideas. More than earlier studies, however, this thesis highlights the role of pre-existing beliefs. Accepting one new idea over another is largely determined by the values and beliefs actors bring to bear when judging new ideas; and thus, the cases show a pattern of acceptance for OECD ideas that largely follows along professional boundaries and/or ideological leanings. Moreover, pre-existing beliefs that are intertwined with an actor’s identity tend to be more resistant to change. As other ideational scholars argue, a change in individuals’ beliefs can alter both the policy process and policy itself. When acceptance of an idea is widespread, problems of collective action can be overcome. When beliefs are not as widely shared, their impact on policy depends on many factors. Fragmentation of power and accountability can create “veto players,” and previous policies can create constituencies of supporters, some of whom may resist change. However, during a policy paradigm change, a shift in authority over policy can alter the political landscape and whose ideas matter. Given all these variables, the impact that a belief in new ideas can have on policy is highly mediated, and policy reforms, therefore, may not resemble the ideas which triggered the acceptance of change in the first place.
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