Considering public policy as both a dependent and an independent variable, this article undertakes a systematic assessment of the sources and systemic consequences of policy. It begins with a statement of contrasting theories of the sources of policy. One strand of comparative theory emphasizes national cultures and elite beliefs as the main sources of policy; another stresses the cross-national imperatives of particular policy programs, of international diffusion, and of common policy processes. Drawing on longitudinal data on an array of ethnic policies in Malaysia, the study highlights the limits of cultural-determinist theories of policy. It shows that elite beliefs change over time, often creating layers of policy based on varying premises; that one set of beliefs can overcome another, inconsistent set; that critical events can alter the balance of authoritative beliefs; and that, where beliefs are in conflict, organized interests have room for manoeuver. Moreover, the interaction of a mix of operative beliefs can produce outcomes very much at variance with what policymakers wish or anticipate. Finally, on the systemic effects of policy, the study shows that interests created by earlier policy can be decisive actors in the shaping of later policy. Policy itself can change the entire structure of the political system - an outcome rather clearly demonstrated in the case of Malaysia.
Horowitz, D.L. Cause and consequence in public policy theory: ethnic policy and system transformation in Malaysia. Policy Sciences (1989) 22 (3-4) 249-297.