Public policy refers to the laws, the actions of the government, the funding priorities and the regulations that reflect given positions, attitudes, cultural ideals or accepted rules.

Understanding Public Policy

Public policy factors in to how decisions are made. When courts and lawmakers consider whether to pass a law, give something priority or rule in a certain way, they do so because of public policy and they simultaneously shape public policy.
For example:

  • When courts and legislatures make the decision to legalize same-sex marriage or to make same-sex marriage legal or illegal, they may take into account what they believe is good for the public as a whole. They may also consider cultural ideas on the issue. Their decision can shape public policy.
  • When courts refuse to enforce contracts related to illegal behavior, such as refusing to enforce a contract for prostitution or a contract to purchase stolen goods, this is an example of a public policy decision. The courts don’t want to encourage wrongful behavior like people entering into illegal contracts.
  • The law in the United States says that a person cannot sell his or her body, including selling organs or selling the body for intercourse. This is a public policy decision.
  • When lawmakers pass legislation protecting workers, instituting wage-and-hour laws and providing enforcement for wage-and-hour laws, this is a public policy decision. The policy is to protect the rights of workers within the society.
  • When lawmakers pass legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, this is an act that shapes public policy. It shows that there is a priority to provide protection for women.
  • When lawmakers impose a progressive tax system, this is based on public policy which indicates that those who make more money should pay more money into the system and those who have less money should pay less into the system.
  • When a state imposes tough restrictions on abortion, this is reflective of a public policy that life should be viewed as beginning at birth.
  • The issue of gun rights is a matter of public policy. When tougher gun laws are enacted, this is based on a public policy that stricter laws are likely to lower crime and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, which is more important than an individual’s right to arms. When looser gun laws are enacted, this is based on a public policy prioritizing the rights of gun owners and on a belief that that stronger gun laws will not be effective in stopping violence.
  • The statement from each according to his ability, to each according to his need is an example of a public policy where society owns the means of production and each person does the work that he can do and receives the money and resources he needs.

These are just some of many examples of public policy and how lawmakers both shape and are shaped by public policy. Understanding the role of public policy is very important and there can be vast differences in public policy positions and outcomes.

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