by Shamit Saggar
Harold Lasswell’s The Decision Making Process (1956) makes the compelling case for academics to get their hands dirty in the corridors of power. I read it eagerly, aged 23, as I prepared to start my first junior lectureship teaching public policy. Students take note if you want to use your knowledge to affect change.
Robert Dahl’s – Who Governs? (1961) argues for a vibrant pluralist democracy in which even the weakest groups in society have a shot at influencing public policy. I’m more sceptical. I have always been sensitive to those who don’t get heard, however much we celebrate our liberal ways of doing politics.
An American Dilemma (1944), written by the Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal, pointed to the huge tensions between our liberal creed and ideals and the results for marginalised groups. He was writing about African-Americans, and those lessons seems equally valid today and of relevance here in Australia.
Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Gold (2009) tells the detailed story of unrestrained greed, weak regulatory systems and naïve politicians – the real causes of the great financial crash. It sets out why intelligent, probing regulation armed with knowledge and expertise are the best weapons we have.
The Blunders of our Governments (2013) by Ivor Crewe and the late Tony King is a timely reminder of all that has gone wrong in large-scale public policy. When I worked in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s forward strategy team my mind kept tugging back: perhaps we could do more good with a backward strategy to defuse the ticking policy mistakes made ten years ago? This book explains why – and reflects my temperament to ‘do no harm’.
Shamit Saggar is inaugural director of the University of Western Australia’s Public Policy Institute