“Presidential Control and Public Finance,” Patrick O’Brien, Yale
AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: This talk provides an overview of an extensive book manuscript that explains why some presidents reorder the domain of public finance—broadly defined to include both fiscal policy and monetary policy—and why other presidents fail. In particular, I use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to show a recurring development throughout American history: In response to an exceptionally-severe and highly-prioritized problem, a president and his principals will take the lead in restructuring the public finance apparatus in the process of shifting the parameters of public finance policy. Equally important, the new administrative apparatus will continue to structure the policymaking process under subsequent incumbents, thereby securing the new policy parameters as both the problem in the policy domain and the prioritization of that problem decline. In other words, I show that a president’s ability to restructure the public finance apparatus is the key operational component of change and stability in public finance policy.
In the process of answering this substantively important question, I critique the leading approach to studying the presidency and policymaking—what I label the “unitary executive framework”—and I provide a new historical-institutional alternative.
Patrick R. O’Brien is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University. His research interests include the presidency, public policy, public administration, and American political development.