How American core values influence public policy: Problem definitions in federal aid to small business, 1953--1993

Date of Completion

January 1997


History, United States|Political Science, Public Administration




The dissertation contends that traditional interest group and institutional approaches do not fully explain federal aid to small business and that core values, those often referred to as the American Creed, must be taken into account. Rather than treat core values as a contextual factor or infer values influence from the contours of policy, as has been the custom, it pinpoints a mechanism through which core values have influenced small business aid and likely influence other policies.^ Core values are criteria that may be used in making the judgements involved in the processes of policy problem definition. The emphasis is on the evaluation and translation of conditions into problems, the evaluations that generate images of populations affected by policy, and the theories of causation undergirding problem definitions that are influenced by target population images. Studies of the policy process have previously noted a role for core values, however, the various avenues through which values may influence problem definitions and the linkages between these avenues has received little attention.^ Small business aid is investigated by asking how members of Congress and presidents defined the problems for these programs, 1953-1993. Legislative histories of 39 systematically selected small business aid enactments provide the data on problem definitions.^ The roots of small business aid are traced to the antitrust tradition, the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean conflict. Analysis of the problems defined during the project focal period shows that policymakers employed values-based criteria to evaluate and translate conditions into problems and to evaluate small business. Positive values-based evaluations of the target population contributed to causal ideas tying small business with desirable conditions and relieving it from blame for negative conditions. Small business aid is a compensatory equal opportunity policy for a population associated with desirable socioeconomic conditions and deemed to deserve government assistance because it is perceived to be disadvantaged relative to big business and by big government. Small business is a victim of circumstances beyond its control. ^