Journal of Public Policy


Instruments of Government: Perceptions and Contexts

Stephen H. Lindera1 and B. Guy Petersa2

a1 Public Health, University of Texas, Houston

a2 Political Science, University of Pittsburgh


Government uses a wide variety of instruments to reach its policy goals, ranging from indirect methods, such as moral suasion and cash inducements, to more direct ones involving government provision of services. Although there has been a fair amount of writing on the nature and use of various policy instruments, there is very little work on either the meaning ascribed to these instruments by the decisionmakers who use them (or the experts who design them) or the processes by which some come to be favored over others. Characteristics of the political system, such as national policy style, the organizational setting of the decisionmaker, and the problem situation are all likely to have some influence over the choice of instruments. The relative impact of these variables, however, is likely to be mediated by subjective factors linked to cognition. Perceptions of the proper ‘tool to do the job’ intervenes between context and choice in a complex way. Efforts to account for variation in instrument choice, then, must focus not only on macro level variables but on micro ones as well.