Sample Public Interest Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of political science research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Also, chech our custom research proposal writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.
Scholars debate the question of the public interest somewhat less than they once did, but it remains an important issue. As is true of other central concepts, the passage of time does not always lead to an increase in acuity, although it does lead to changes in emphasis (Friedrich 1962, Lewin 1991). Much that might be considered under the rubric of the public interest, moreover, continues to be discussed in terms of associated ideas such as justice, responsibility, and community. This ambiguity complicates a topic that is itself elusive.
Need a Custom-Written Essay or a Research Paper?
Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services
1. What Is The Public Interest, Conceptually?
The issue of the public interest is best organized under four headings. First is the formal or conceptual question. This includes problems such as the meaning of public as opposed to private, self or common interest, and the meaning of interests as distinguished from other goods. ‘Public’ sometimes is taken as anything that is not private, so that regard for the public interest means any regard for interests or groups that are not strictly or exclusively one’s own (Lewin 1991). Less broadly, a public often is said to be those aﬀected by private groups, in the sense that people who are neither labor nor management are aﬀected by strikes. Such publics, moreover, sometimes are taken to refer to those potentially and not just actually aﬀected as, say, any potential passenger might be inconvenienced by a strike of air traﬃc controllers.
(Someone can, therefore, have both a private and a public interest in the same matter, and ‘self’ interest need not be identical to private interest.) In this sense we are all members of many publics. Often, however, the public interest is taken to be what is in the interests of ‘all’ of us, presumably as citizens within some boundary, although the questions of scope and authority are often curiously undiscussed. There are not many publics in this view but, ﬁnally, one public (Friedrich 1962, Barth 1992). The public is the group that makes law. Of course, its interests may be the sum of those of the many aﬀected publics into which it can be divided.
Many discussions of the ‘public’ in these terms have in mind economic matters, or the point of view of academic economics (Friedrich 1962). A public is seen as an aﬀected or lawmaking group of individuals that seeks satisfaction in economically calculable terms. Publics want things that market failures cause them to receive inadequately. It is serving such publics that deﬁnes the responsibilities of professionals and of businesses ‘aﬀected with the public interest.’ One strength of this conception is that since the 1950s it has brought to bear an increasingly sophisticated understanding of economically rational action, both strategic and straightforward.
There are, however, limits to this perspective. They are evident in the narrowness of the economic view of the public when it is compared to other notions of what is potentially common in common goods. For, what is common is not limited to what each independently and equally can use or enjoy, as we use markets. The common also can involve things of which we are only parts, sometimes equal or identical and sometimes not, as a face is common to its diﬀerent parts or a team or family common to its members. The ties that characterize what is common, moreover, are not limited to what covers or blankets us universally, but include attaching, placing, ﬁtting, ordering, attracting and other links integral to images of politics from Plato through Hegel. Practical and economically based notions of the public interest will, of course, often take these distinctions for granted, but deeper exploration of the concept of the public interest cannot.
Just as ‘public’ is often narrower than common, so too are ‘interests’ conceptually diﬀerent from goods more broadly conceived. Discussions of the public interest often refer to Adam Smith and, therefore, to a view of what is good as what satisﬁes desire in the somewhat ﬂat, calculable, and exchangeable manner of post-Hobbesian or Lockean bourgeois life. Interests are linked to what is merely interesting, not to goods as objects of passion, longing, pride or nobility or to the character and institutions that support and direct these. Public interests are what several of us happen to desire, or means to satisfaction that we generally want. Part of the conceptual task in understanding the public interest is to consider the diﬀerent ways of experiencing goods so that we can grasp how interests are goods conceived in a limited manner that is linked to the premises of liberal individualism.
2. What Is The Public Interest, Substantively?
A second question about the public interest is what it is substantively. This issue involves both scope and content. Some scholars seek to limit questions of the public interest only to certain kinds of public goods. Others use it to stand for national goals, purposes or goods more comprehensively. In practice, too, speaking of the public interest generally diﬀers from considering the public’s interest in assuring the provision to all of some speciﬁc good such as telephone service.
When the scope of the public interest is limited to economic concerns, so too is the content of what is said to comprise it; for some the public interest does not even include protecting rights. To limit the concept in this way risks confusion when ‘public interest’ retains its broad use in practice and even in theory; to use it broadly, however, seems to involve every question of human purpose and to require some other concept to take the place of the idea used narrowly.
Just as our understanding of the public interest conceived narrowly has beneﬁted from developments in economic understanding, so too has substantive discussion about the public interest conceived broadly undergone notable developments since the 1950s. The triumph of liberal democracies in the Cold War has directed the concerns of the left away from socialism simply to expanding the place of egalitarianism and community within liberal democracy itself. A wish among those who reject the reviviﬁed concept of natural rights to nonetheless ground the place of rights and defend them from simple utilitarian calculations has become widespread. Concern with the place of virtue and nobility in liberal democracies and, indeed, concern with these phenomena simply has been renewed (Rawls 1971, Strauss 1952). All these trends have enriched and re-energized discussions of the public interest.
3. Can The Public Interest Be Implemented?
The third question is how the public interest might be implemented concretely and used as a guide for action. Some thinkers argue that the ‘public interest’ is too vague to be used other than rhetorically or that it is merely a name that sums up a country’s political and economic life at some moment frozen in analytical time (Friedrich 1962). More charitably, one might concede that it means a certain level of economic satisfaction and political freedom but that these are best reached through private and political competition, that is, when no one aims at them directly.
When we conceive the public interest broadly, however, it is not always so diﬃcult to discern how it might guide action. Constitutions, for example, cannot be formed well without explicit attention to more than private concerns: Charles Beard’s worm’s eye view of the framing of the American Constitution has been debunked by more thoughtfully elevated judgments (Kesler 2000, Mansﬁeld 1991) Once constitutionally secured, individual rights and liberties must be exercised individually, but steps to protect these rights publicly must be attended to explicitly by jurists. National defense is a public interest that guides speciﬁc legislative and executive action.
To say that the public good often receives explicit attention is not to say that it goes without debate, but to call it debatable is not to call it meaningless. The deliberations and result of the US’ constitutional convention prove the contrary. Similarly, if we take our private interest to include moral and intellectual excellence and not only economic opportunity and satisfaction we would not say that the disputability of these ends makes them pointless. On the contrary, their subtlety may make our attention to them all the more intense.
If we conceive the public interest more narrowly as assuring some equitable or safe provision and distribution of certain goods then it is again clear that the public interest can be a concrete guide. Are expanding access to communications and increasing public health served better by explicit government regulation with a deﬁned public interest in mind of such and such a level of drug safety and computer ownership, or are they better served by discovery and application fueled largely by private desires for wealth, knowledge, and mastery, with little regulatory adjustment of the private application of resources? Is improved education secured better by unfunded parental choice, by funded choice, or by public provision or standards? Explicit attention to health, education and responsible choice as public interests seems necessary to help secure their suﬃcient provision and fair distribution, if only to ward oﬀ excessive regulation and allow private eﬀorts to ﬂourish.
4. Is The Public Interest Followed?
The fourth question is whether anyone in practice pays attention to the public interest or whether private interest in fact dominates even in public matters. It is argued that the actions of voters, representatives, and bureaucrats all can be explained as attempts to enhance private goods; this analysis can be expanded to professionals, journalists, and intellectuals who do public talking, if not public business, for a living. Even if the public interest could guide us, in this view it does not.
Some recent research in the US and Western Europe indicates that voters do not simply or usually vote their immediately selﬁsh economic concerns, that the behavior of representatives cannot always or primarily be explained by their wish for re-election, that bureaucrats do not always want to increase their agency’s size, and that groups and individuals sometimes do seek beneﬁts for publics from which they and their members do not receive special advantages (Lewin 1991, Wilson 1989). Of course, a link between private and public interest is to be expected and largely desired in liberal democratic regimes, for the responsibility we encourage in citizens and oﬃcials is meant to beneﬁt not just others but oneself as well (Kesler 2000).
Obviously, whether political action actually attempts to serve public interests requires continued study. Only the excessively naive would believe that unbridled devotion to a clearly conceived common good directs each and every political choice. But only the false or foolish sophisticate would believe the public interest to be as ﬂeeting and airy as the summer snow.
- Antitrust and the Economics of the Public Interest 1997 Symposium: Economics of Antitrust Enforcement. Antitrust Bulletin 42(Spring)
- Barth T J 1992 The public interest and administrative discretion. American Review of Public Administration 22: 289–300
- Blitz M 2000 Liberal freedom and responsibility. In: Boxx W T, Quinlaven G (eds.) Public Morality, Civic Virtue and the Problem of Liberalism. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI
- Box R C 1992 The administrator as trustee of the public interest: Normative ideals and daily practice. Administration & Society 24: 323–45
- Dewey J 1927 The Public and Its Problems. Holt, New York
- Friedrich C J (ed.) 1962 The Public Interest. Atherton, New York
- Goodin R E 1996 Institutionalizing the public interest: the defense of deadlock and beyond. American Political Science Review 90: 331–43
- Kesler C (ed.) 2000 Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, The Federalist Papers. Random House, New York
- Lewin L 1991 Self Interest and Public Interest in Western Politics (trans. Lavery D). Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK
- Mansﬁeld Jr. H C 1991 America’s Constitutional Soul. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD
- Rawls J 1971 A Theory of Justice. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
- Strauss L 1952 Natural Right and History. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
- Wilson J Q 1989 Bureaucracy. Basic Books, New York