Decision making is recognised as a fundamental activity of public administration. The debate of rational versus incremental models of policy making is could be viewed as a debate over alternative political systems and values. Rational decision making has a centralising bias, while incrementalism tends to favour representative and pluralist decision making (Sabatier, 1991: 147). Additionally, the rational model tends not to favour any community contribution while incrementalism leans towards widespread popular participation in decision making. Despite their numerous differences, both techniques can work well or even fail, depending on the situation in which they are used (Dunn, 1981).
The purpose of this paper is to address the decision making model applied in China by illustrating the typical rural economic policies that have been made in the last five decades. In this essay, author will focus on analysing Mao’s Agricultural Reform and Deng’s Agricultural Reform in the policy process of decision-making and giving relevant evaluations to these two paradigms.
Decision-making models of rationality and incrementalism
The Rational Actor Model (Rationality) occurs in a very methodological, neat, problem solving process. Its features include the appraisal of problem, to identify the goals and rank their order, to canvass the possible alternatives, to consider the consequences of each alternative and finally to select the alternative that most closely matches the referred goals (Hill, 1997).
In the Incremental Model (Incrementalism), decisions are made through small or incremental moves on particular problems rather than through a comprehensive reform program, just like Coxall and Robins ever said that incrementalism “tends to move away from an undesirable situation rather than be directed towards predefined policy goals” (Coxall and Robins, 1994: 354). It is also endless because it takes the form of an indefinite sequence of policy moves. It focuses on making necessary changes and sees policy as variations of the past. In this model, the decisions are the product of bargaining. It implies that policy-making is a messy or untidy process of muddling through (Dunn, 1981).
Mao’s Agricultural Reform
In respect to agricultural production, especially within the production of grain, China has had perpetual problems due to the need to feed 20% of the worlds population yet only having 7% of the worlds arable land to do so; a problem which is further intensified as a result of only half that land being suitable for agricultural production (Cannon and Jenkins, 1990).
As the former decision-maker of dominant party -Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao Zedong and his fellow radicals believed if domestic resources could be concentrated and utilized more efficiently, they could produce a ‘great leap’ in agriculture in few years. Therefore, in order to achieve the dramatic goal, Mao adopted an extremely radical approach – collectivization of agriculture. Prior to 1978, agriculture within rural China was arranged in a commune system, where a three-tier arrangement had developed – the work-teams being subordinate to the production brigades who in turn were subordinate to the communes. Under this system, land ownership and income control did not lie with the individual householder, instead control was primarily held by the commune (Genghang, 1984).
The flaws in Mao’s policy were gradually detected in practice, including: Poor quality work due to lack of individual responsibility towards the cultivation (Saith, 1987); Problems of pay – people were rewarded unfairly, due to unequal work for equal pay; Low morale, lack of motivation and widespread poverty (Cannon and Jenkins, 1990); Collective agriculture promotes the idea of mass-production which creates a bias towards one-crop farming, namely grain production. Such farming practices are ecologically damaging due to little crop-rotation (Gray, 1983);
These problems caused agricultural output to plummet by 38 percent in 1961 and by a further 16 percent in 1962 (U.S. Library of Congress, 2002).
Mao’s Agricultural Reform is a representative policy of decision-making with models of rationality. The Rational Actor Model (rationality) emphasises on two preconditions which are intellectual capacities and adequate sources of information, piggybacking these two conditions, decision-maker can reach ideal consequence. For the model of rationality’s limitations, almost decision-makers failed ultimately for they ignoring rational preconditions which they were not possessed in real life (Dunn, 1981). A sample paradigm emerged that Mao Zedong and his fellows give people the serious lesson, which was a shortage of food; overproduction of poor-quality goods; demoralization of the peasantry, and exhaustion.
Firstly, the reform was a failure for Mao’s poor intelligence in the area of economy and his autarchy. Rationalism makes the assumption that the decision-maker can recognise the problem and that the decision-maker’s goals, values and objectives are clear and ranked in accord with their importance (Hill, 1997). However, Mao is not an economist and that was not good at accepting counterviews in his old age. Thus, he not only chose an improper route that maximises the attainment of his goals, values and objectives, but also did not supply a degree of “participation in the decision-making process” ( Hill, 1997 ). Like as Simon points out that it is impossible for the behaviour of a single, isolated individual to reach any high degree of rationality. The number of the behaviour of alternatives he must explore is so great and the information he would need to evaluate them so vast that even an approximation to objective rationality is hard to conceive (Simon, 1947).
Secondly, of the amount of new information generated by our environment, our senses filter out 99% before it reaches our consciousness. Given these facts, human behaviour is in most cases restricted to satisfy behaviour. Rationality is thus bounded by the complexity of the world we live in relative to our cognitive abilities. It seems intuitively obvious to the casual observer that rationality is more descriptive of the way people with modest computational abilities make decisions, stay alive, and even thrive (Simon, 1947). The decision-making process of Mao’s Agricultural Reform ignored numbers of important information, which was productivity and finance limited, especially some uncertain elements, such as the withdrawal of Soviet assistance.