Michael M. Atkinson and William D. Coleman, “Strong states and weak states: sectoral policy networks in advanced capitalist economies”, British Journal of Political Science 19 (1989), pp. 747-767

Main Argument:

The concepts of strength and weakness must pay much greater attention to specific bureaucratic arrangements and the relationships with key societal actors which, in company with bureaucratic agencies, form the core of ‘policy networks’ at the sectoral level. The article uses the concepts of state capacity and societal mobilization to identify six ideal typical policy networks at the sectoral level. It elaborates on the organizational logic associated with these policy networks by examining them in conjunction with industrial policy. After distinguishing between two approaches to industrial policy – anticipatory and reactive – it shows how different policy networks emerge to support alternative approaches and how a disjunction between networks and approaches can produce policy failure.

Method: The authors focus on the meso level, the level of sectors of the economy. They create a framework for policy types that goes beyond the simple corporatist-pluralist dichotomy.


== Notes ==

Policy networks may take on a variety of forms and hence their study requires a more nuanced categorization than the strong state-weak state, or pluralist-corporatist formulations

–           There is growing evidence that original conceptions of strength and weakness, offered almost exclusively at the macro level, are too crude to begin to account for the rich variety of state-society relations that are being documented

–           Much greater attention must be paid to specific bureaucratic arrangements and to the relationships that the officials involved maintain with key societal actors

–           Similarly, greater attention must be paid to the specific organizational properties of associational systems and individual firms

–           Such societal actors, in company with bureaucratic agencies, form the core of ‘policy networks’ at the sectoral level


Policy Networks

–           In evaluating weakness and strength at the sectoral level, it is critical to determine, first, the degree to which ultimate decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of officials  and, secondly, the degree to which these officials are able to act autonomously

–           In sectors with strong state characteristics, task forces, co-ordinating committees or working liaison groups encourage the independent thinking and broader perspective required for longer-term policy planning

–           By contrast, in sectors with weak state structures, a wide range of politicians and bureaucrats can claim some jurisdiction, no institutions exist to link their activities, and a more traditional division of labour prevails

–           Such ‘bureaucratic pluralism’ encourages incremental, short-term decision making that is based on lowest common denominator criteria and always vulnerable to the introduction of a partisan political calculus

–           The second criterion is the degree to which the state bureaucracy is autonomous

Who is the actor?

–           In market-based economies, business is the state’s critical partner, especially in matters related to economic policy
–           There is great variety in the sectoral organization of business in all liberal democracies
–           When business is a highly mobilised sector (see page 51), there is little competitions and associations will have the capacity to bind member firms to agreements negotiated with the state combine the dimensions of bureaucratic autonomy, concentration of authority and business interest mobilization to create six categories of policy networks (see table 1: the policy networks defined below represent ideal types)


Pressure Pluralism: Circumstances of economic development and the organizational evolution of the bureaucracy in a sector combine to deny the state both autonomy and concentration of decision-making power. Interests are fragmented, with groups operating on their own in narrow, specialized and overlapping domains.


Clientele Pluralism: The state relinquishes some of its authority to private sector actors, who, in turn, pursue objectives with which officials are in broad agreement.

Parentela Pluralism: A close relationship exists between owners or managers of individual firms and the dominant political party.

Corporatism: An autonomous but divided state seeks to place the onus for decision making in the hands of conflicting socio-economic producer groups. A corporatist network provides a means for incorporating two or more classes or class fractions into forums where policy is formulated and implemented.

Concertation: The need for inclusive, hierarchical and non-voluntary associations, but in a concertation network, it is business, and usually just a single element or fraction of business, that shares policy-making responsibility with the state. Labour is involved in only a marginal way, if at all.

Industry-Dominant Pressure Pluralism: A weak system of business representation, as found in the pressure pluralist case, combined with a high degree of state autonomy. The political-administrative style is one of managerial directive followed by a polite briefing. Business-state relations are barely cordial.