chapter  3
26 Pages

Policy flexibility vs. policy inertia: coalitional dynamics in German pension reform


Many theories of policy change focus on the stability of preferences, coalitions and institutions, and argue that major change is possible only under ‘special’

When and how does far-reaching policy change take place? Dominant approaches to the analysis of policy change – such as the advocacy coalition framework or punctuated equilibrium theories – argue that major change is rare and driven mostly by exogenous forces. More recent theories, however, argue that endogenous and more gradual path-shifting change is possible, too. This chapter deals with the politics of such transformative change. In line with the overarching orientation of the book, it is argued that an understanding of the politics of gradual path-shifting policy change needs to take the following two points into account: First, policies are multidimensional. This means that the actors of a policy-subsystem may pursue a variety of very different goals in a policy reform-process. And second, agency is key: we need a strong focus on the behaviour and preferences of actors, who can combine different policy-goals or policydimensions in ways as to allow for political exchange and for the formation of reform coalitions. Empirically, the chapter demonstrates the importance of multidimensionality and actor strategies with regard to changes in German pension policy since the early 1990s. The results show that over time, governments in Germany were able to transform the very logic and structure of the German pension system, because they were able to rely on mechanisms of political exchange and compensation in a multidimensional policy space. The upshot of the chapter is that we need to conceptualize reform politics as a constantly changing configuration and reconfiguration of actor alliances. Policies are not frozen and actor coalitions are not stable. Rather, policies are constantly reconfigured along a plurality of reform dimensions.