Pendulum Metaphor

… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

Click for pdf of Clark paper

Concept description

Merriam Webster defines pendulum as “something (such as a state of affairs) that alternates between opposites” and the pendulum metaphor is often used to characterize swings in public opinion and public policy.

For example, Clark (2007, pdf on right) uses the pendulum metaphor in describing the evolution of public sector reforms in Canada and Ontario:

“In reflecting on the experience in the federal and Ontario governments with downsizing and modernization, I thought it would be useful to suggest that you keep in mind two “governance pendulums.” I have called the first, centralization-empowerment and the second, propriety-performance.

“The first pendulum refers to the design choice in governing any system – from the economy as a whole to the operations of the public sector – the balance between centralized and decentralized decision-making. Greater centralization supports economies of scale and rational planning; it can reduce wasteful duplication and destructive competition. Decentralization allows greater responsiveness to local conditions and more individual creativity; it can incent higher performance through constructive competition. The choice is partly ideological and values-based. It will depend on the priority attached to such political values as equality of treatment. It is also partly pragmatic and evidence-based. It will depend on the perceived effectiveness of the particular model. This pendulum can be expected to move in response to elections and to accumulated experience.

“The second pendulum refers to the balance between the process-related demands of demonstrating compliance with what most voters think to be proper behaviour on the part of servants of the state on the one hand and the results-related demands of increasing system performance. This pendulum also moves in response to changing circumstances, particularly the public response to scandals and perceptions of excess privilege on the part of office holders.”

As a second example, Marjorie Fuller (2017, reference below) uses the metaphor (and the Newton’s third law of motion) to characterize the evolution of race relations in the United States:

“I first developed the concept of the Pendulum Effect Theory of Race Relations in 1999, when I made a conceptual connection between the physics formula which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the progression of race relations in the United States. I noticed that the concept that applied so absolutely in the physical realm seemed to relate similarly to matters of race and social conscience, and that the timeline of our racial history in the U.S. exhibited an undeniable pattern of swinging back and forth between conflicting social ideals, concepts, principles and behaviors.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.

Sources

Merriam-Webster, pendulum, at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pendulum, accessed 28 December 2018.

Ian Clark (2007), Governance Pendulums in Public Sector Reform Lessons on Downsizing and Modernization from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, Notes for Remarks at a Meeting with the Secretary General for Government Renewal Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands and his Delegation, at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Governance-Pendulums-in-Public-Sector-Reform.pdf, accessed 28 December 2018.

Marjorie M. Fuller (2017), The Pendulum Effect: The Science that took us from Obama to Trump, at https://www.100daysinappalachia.com/2017/02/20/pendulum-effect-science-took-us-obama-trump/, accessed 28 December 2018.

Page created by: Alec Wreford and Ian Clark, last modified on 28 December 2018.

Image: Ian Clark (2007), Governance Pendulums in Public Sector Reform Lessons on Downsizing and Modernization from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, Notes for Remarks at a Meeting with the Secretary General for Government Renewal Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands and his Delegation, at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Governance-Pendulums-in-Public-Sector-Reform.pdf, accessed 28 December 2018.