The Contested Politics of Public Value

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Abstract

The emerging field of public values helpfully focuses on the norms and government policies that serve the public interest, but its analysis neglects the barriers to actually creating public value in contemporary America. Chief among these barriers are contending strains of public beliefs and opinions, the disproportionate influence of affluent individuals and business and professional associations, as well as governing structures predisposed toward inaction and drift. This article contrasts the expectations of the public values field with research on American politics to identify barriers to advancing the public interest under current conditions. Although public values scholars offer an analysis of American public life that is inadequate, they do raise challenging questions about how a public-regarding agenda can be “designed in” to politics and policy. The article concludes by suggesting feasible reforms to improve the conditions for pursuing the public interest.

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