The Dynamics of Policy Complexity

Keiichi Kawai (UNSW Sydney)
Ruitian Lang (Australian National University)
Hongyi Li (UNSW Sydney)

Abstract: This paper explores the origins of bureaucratic complexity in public policy. In a model of incremental policymaking where entanglements between policy elements complicate attempts to undo existing policy, policymakers are biased towards increasing policy complexity -- especially when policy is already complex. Policy evolution is thus path-dependent: simple policies remain simple, whereas complex policies become more complex. Complexity emerges and persists under political conflict between ideologically-extreme policymakers, and when legislative frictions impede policymaking. Patience is not a virtue: farsighted policymakers deliberately engage in obstructionism, introducing complex policies to shackle future opponents.

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