POLICY ANALYSIS AND POLITICS: COMMENTS ON "THE CONTINUING STRUGGLE FOR A NEGATIVE INCOME TAX"

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      This article presents the author's opinion on questions raised by Walter Williams' discussion of the negative income tax case. His review of three book-length accounts of the rise and demise of the Nixon administration's Family Assistance Plan (FAP) is an engaging essay and an even-handed evaluation. But the principal theme of his essay revolved around the role of the policy analyst both before and during the FAP fight and, indeed, his likely future in social policy-making in the U.S. It is clear that the availability of policy analysis--technical detail, social science facts, and computer-assisted modeling--is not a sufficient condition for policy choice. But is it even a necessary condition? The answer is obviously no, for politically motivated choice has been the dominant mode in the past and still is, in the FAP case it dominated more than Williams or the other three authors would have liked. Thus, the impact of policy analysis should be viewed as depending not only on the quality of the policy analysis that is available but also on the probability that politicians accept the analysis. Policies attempting to deal with the poor seem to generate in this country's political machinery a distinctive type of conflict, the roots of which extend down to the almost schizoid character of American public opinion on poverty and public assistance. It was troublesome for the Congress to deal with FAP, and its behavior can be understood not as a debacle but as an attempt to resolve in some fashion the conflicting and contradictory implications of the reform proposal.