Public Policy

Political Institutions, Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and Policy Disasters



This paper develops a theory of the relationship between policy disasters and political institutions. Policy disasters, defined as avoidable, unintended extreme negative policy outcomes, are important political and historical events above that receive relatively little attention from political scientists and scholars of public policy. Using the predictions of punctuated equilibrium theory, I argue that systems with higher error accumulation will experience more policy disasters. These disasters will take two forms: disasters caused by policymaking negligence and disasters caused by policymaking mistakes. Systems with more veto players and weaker information flows will experience more disasters, but information flows will have a stronger impact than veto players. I test this theory using data on financial crises and natural and technological disasters across seventy countries over sixty years. I find strong evidence that systems with weaker information flows and more veto players tend to have greater disaster risk.


Thumbnail image of A Punctuated Equilibrium Theory of Policy Disasters Preprint.pdf


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