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A Model of Muddling Through

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2013

Jonathan Bendor
Stanford University


As arguments about the effectiveness of “muddling through” have proven frustratingly inconclusive, incrementalism—once a major approach to the study of boundedly rational policy processes—has gone dormant. In an attempt to revitalize the debate, I present a formal model of muddling through. The model, by clarifying the logical structure of the informal theory, presents a clearer target for criticism. More importantly, it establishes numerous deductive results. First, some of Lindblom's less controversial conjectures—about the benefits of seriality (repeated attacks on the same policy problem) and redundancy (multiple decision makers working on the same problem)—turn out to be correct if conflict across policy domains is absent or takes certain specified forms. But given other empirically reasonable types of conflict, even these claims are wrong. Second, the advantages of incremental (local) policy search (Lindblom's best-known and most controversial claim) turn out to be still less well founded: in many empirically plausible contexts the claim is invalid.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 1995

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