Back in the old days (as in: the 1960s), it was easy to explain the legislative process in Denmark: The government sets up a commission of politicians, bureaucrats and one or the other expert, it publishes a report recommending smaller or larger reforms and finally the report’s recommendations are passed unchanged by parliament. In this way, the real question was: Why and when do governments set up commissions.
There were exceptions to the rule. Much legislation had a routine character, some followed from political negotiations and then there was the labour market where commissions did not include politicians – at least not when the serious business began. The labour market, all agreed, was a matter for the trade unions and the employers’ association. So whatever those parties agreed on, parliament faithfully accepted.
From the early 1990s onward, the role of commissions has changed. In commissions, politicians are now as rare as ice in the Sahara (defence is the exception here) and the link between commission reports and government policy has become increasingly more weak. These days, the pattern looks like this: The government sets up a commission of experts. Why? Probably to appear to be taking an issue seriously – and to take it off the political agenda. The commission works for one or two years and publishes its report recommending reforms. The government then declares that this is hopeless and buries the issue or enters negotiations with the Danish People’s Party which lead to the opposite result.
So why would you join a commission as an academic expert? Assuming that academics are not stupid (feel free to discuss), there may be some incentives.
Leaving the pay aside, you will have easy access to statistics and a secretariat to do calculations and models for you. Most social scientists would relish this. Heck, the secretariat will even be writing the report for you without anybody complaining. And there may also be a spin-off to your day job here as you will have access to inside information – you may not be able to use it as sources but getting the context right still plays a role in much of social science.
Alternatively, you could convince yourself that you are playing a long-time game. Sure, the politicians may frown right now but in a couple of years’ time they’ll come crawling back. (Come on: Academics are never humble when it comes to public policy. Never!)
Still, as the pattern with “setting up of commission – publishing of report – immediate rejection of recommendations” develop, governments may find that academics and experts need more selective incentives (pay, secretariat, access to data) in order to accept an invitation to join a commission.
And the next question is: How many times can a government play this game without loosing its credibility?