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Queen's University

*Co-presented with the Department of Political Studies

Policy-making for the Long-term:
When Do Democratic Governments Invest in the Future? 

December 1, 2011

Alan M. JacobsAlan M. Jacobs, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

While political analysis has commonly focused on the distributive problem of who gets what, many of the hardest choices facing modern societies are dilemmas of timing. If governments want to reduce public debt, slow climate change, or shore up pension systems, they must typically inflict immediate pain on citizens for gains that will only arrive over the long run. In his talk, Professor Jacobs will analyze the conditions under which elected governments invest in long-term social benefits at short-term social cost. He will argue that, along the path to adoption, investment-oriented policies must surmount three distinct hurdles to future-oriented state action: a problem of electoral risk, rooted in the scarcity of voter attention; a problem of prediction, deriving from the complexity of long-term policy effects; and a problem of institutional capacity, arising from interest groups' preferences for distributive gains over intertemporal  bargains. Drawing on his recent book on long-term decision-making in pension policy, the talk will point to crucial differences between the casual logics of distributive and intertemporal politics and make a case for bringing trade-offs over time to the center of the study of policy making. 

School of Policy Studies, Robert Sutherland Hall
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.3020