Public Policies and Private Behaviors


Monday, February 22, 2010, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Room 226, Cambridge, MA

Achieving Policy Goals through the Tapping of “Moral Resources”
Claus Offe, Hertie School of Governance in Berlin

About the Seminar
All policies have target actors (“policy takers”) whose courses of action are to be changed from what they would be in the absence of a particular policy. In this seminar, Claus Offe started with the distinction of three mechanisms by which public policies can reach their goals. Apart from laws and their enforcement through (the threat of) coercive sanctions, there are mechanism of taxing and spending which appeal to the rational interest of policy takers. In addition, there are “soft” mechanisms of appealing to social and moral norms, the compliance to which is held to promote public goods and collectively desirable changes. He focused upon policy areas in which neither deterrence through coercion nor incentivization through taxes, benefits, or transfers are promising tools of public policy. One of many such examples is the issue of parental preventative care for child obesity through appropriate nutritional practices.

In this seminar, Offe focused on two questions: Is it right to assume that policy issues that can only be addressed by soft mechanisms are becoming more prevalent and, if so, how could this be explained? What are the cognitive and motivational premises of successful policies of persuasion? These questions also lead to speculations about the role of deliberation in the implementation (as opposed to the initiation) of policies. He concluded by presenting some evidence on the role of “moral resources” in urban policy as it was initiated by Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá.

You can watch the seminar here.

About Claus Offe
Claus Offe is a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

Democracy Seminar Series
The Democracy Seminar Series brings distinguished speakers to Harvard Kennedy School for the academic year to address critical challenges facing democratic governance.