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The Politics of Information

Problem Definition and the Course of Public Policy in America

How does the government decide what’s a problem and what isn’t? And what are the consequences of that process? Like individuals, Congress is subject to the “paradox of search.” If policy makers don’t look for problems, they won’t find those that need to be addressed. But if they carry out a thorough search, they will almost certainly find new problems—and with the definition of each new problem comes the possibility of creating a government program to address it.
With The Politics of Attention, leading policy scholars Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones demonstrated the central role attention plays in how governments prioritize problems. Now, with The Politics of Information, they turn the focus to the problem-detection process itself, showing how the growth or contraction of government is closely related to how it searches for information and how, as an organization, it analyzes its findings. Better search processes that incorporate more diverse viewpoints lead to more intensive policymaking activity. Similarly, limiting search processes leads to declines in policy making. At the same time, the authors find little evidence that the factors usually thought to be responsible for government expansion—partisan control, changes in presidential leadership, and shifts in public opinion—can be systematically related to the patterns they observe.
Drawing on data tracing the course of American public policy since World War II, Baumgartner and Jones once again deepen our understanding of the dynamics of American policy making.

264 pages | 48 figures, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Public Policy


“Baumgartner and Jones provide insights regarding the reshaping of American governance that are truly invaluable to our understanding of the political process. There is no doubt this book will be widely cited for both its theoretical innovations and its empirical insights.”

E. Scott Adler, University of Colorado, Boulder

“Baumgartner and Jones have done it again! The Politics of Information is yet another pathbreaking study from the authors. This time focus is on the development of American government, but both the theoretical approach and the empirical analysis deserves attention well beyond. Scholars of public policy and comparative politics also have a lot to learn from the book.”

Christoffer Green-Pedersen, Aarhus University, Denmark

"The Politics of Information illuminates the vast landscape of the national policymaking process. The analysis of the broadening and thickening dimensions of government growth is especially noteworthy."

Morris P. Fiorina, Stanford University

“Baumgartner and Jones have again contributed to the body of knowledge on agenda setting in public policy. In this analysis of how governments discover, define, and address problems, the authors present a model for how governments prioritize problems as problems go through the agenda-setting process. . . . Recommended.”


“Fascinating. . . . Baumgartner and Jones are grappling with a fundamental question of governance: How do we collectively solve problems whose complexity exceeds the cognition of any one person? And what happens when we attempt to impose simplicity on complex problems that defy such control?”

Washington Monthly

Table of Contents


Part I “Seek and Ye Shall Find”

1 Search, Information, and Policy Agendas
2 Organizing for Expertise or Organizing for Complexity?
3 Information, Search, and Government

Part II Information and the Growth of Government

4 Th e Rise and Decline of Institutional Information Processing in the Executive and Legislative Branches
5 From Clarity to Complexity in Congress
6 The Search for Information and the Great New-Issue Expansion
7 The Thickening and Broadening of Government
8 Rounding Up the Usual Political Suspects

Part III The Implications of Information in Government

9 Organizing Information and the Transformation of U.S. Policy Making
10 Organizing Complexity



International Public Policy Association: Best Book in Public Policy

National Academy of Public Administration: Louis Brownlow Book Award

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