Policy legacies

The image of learning that [contemporary theorists of the state] present has three central features.

First, they suggest that one of the principal factors affecting policy at time-1 is policy at time-0. In Sacks’ words: “The most important influence in this learning is previous policy itself.” Policy responds less directly to social and economic conditions than it does to the consequences of past policy. In Weir and Skocpol’s terms, the interests and ideas that policymakers pursue at any moment in time are shaped by “policy legacies” or “meaningful reactions to previous policies.”

(Hall, 1993:277)

Hall, P. 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain.  Comparative Politics Vol 25, (3), pp. 275-296. p277.


“In the policy sciences, one such form of ‘trap’ is ‘path dependency’. Past policies can create a situation of path dependence that limits the available choices for policymakers to make future policy decisions. Such policy lock in is often a result of ‘policy legacies’ that actively generate institutional routines and procedures that force decision-making, in particular directions by eliminating or distorting the range of policy options available (Pierson 2000, 2004), such as fossil-fuel intensive energy system lock-ins (Unruh 2000).”

Nair and Howlett, 2015.


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