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Taking "Galton's problem" Seriously : Towards a Theory of Policy Diffusion
Journal of Theoretical Politics
6th Annual Convention of the International-Studies-Association Honolulu, HI, MAR 01-05, 2005
This article builds on the recent policy diffusion literature and attempts to overcome one of its major problems, namely the lack of a coherent theoretical framework. The literature defines policy diffusion as a process where policy choices are interdependent, and identifies several diffusion mechanisms that specify the link between the policy choices of the various actors. As these mechanisms are grounded in different theories, theoretical accounts of diffusion currently have little internal coherence. In this article we put forward an expected-utility model of policy change that is able to subsume all the diffusion mechanisms. We argue that the expected utility of a policy depends on both its effectiveness and the payoffs it yields, and we show that the various diffusion mechanisms operate by altering these two parameters. Each mechanism affects one of the two parameters, and does so in distinct ways. To account for aggregate patterns of diffusion, we embed our model in a simple threshold model of diffusion. Given the high complexity of the process that results, strong analytical conclusions on aggregate patterns cannot be drawn without more extensive analysis which is beyond the scope of this article. However, preliminary considerations indicate that a wide range of diffusion processes may exist and that convergence is only one possible outcome.
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