Reassessing Policy Drift: Social Policy Change in the United States
Format of Original
Social Policy & Administration
As formulated by Jacob Hacker, the concept of policy drift turned institutional theories of public policy on their heads by suggesting that consequential policy changes often happen in the absence of reform. Especially prevalent in times of political gridlock or stasis, policy drift is a useful concept for capturing how inaction can gradually diminish the effectiveness of social programmes over time. By highlighting cases of difﬁcult-to-see policy inaction, however, Hacker ’s concept sets a high bar for empirical scholarship. In this article, we suggest that analyzing policy drift requires attention to comparative policy outcomes, the implementation of reforms intended to alleviate drift, and the time frame of the study. With these insights in mind, we analyze the impact of drift on US retirement security and health care coverage to reﬂect policy changes that have occurred since Hacker’s original analysis was published.