Paradigms of Public Intervention and Transport Policy: the Italian Case


G Marletto

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe


The concept of “paradigm” was used for the first time by the historian and sociologist of science Thomas Kuhn to better understand the discontinuous evolution of scientific research. Kuhn stressed that social factors (i.e. the establishment of communities of researchers, with their universities, journals, etc.) and cultural factors (i.e. core knowledge, research goals and methodologies, etc.) play a crucial role in the conservation of the paradigm prevailing each time. With the needed adaptations, a paradigmatic approach can be used to study the evolution of public intervention in the economy: a community of economists, politicians and lobbyists develops around a core of basic assumptions – taken on trust once and for all – and shares, even for a long period, a specific approach of economic policy (i.e. a paradigm), used as valid in all fields and sectors. Only the consolidation of new theoretical foundations and the emerging of new relevant interests and values may give place to the constitution of a new paradigm, undermining the previous one. Applying this kind of approach to the evolution of Italian transport policy, this paper will be composed of three parts. In the first one, four paradigms of public intervention will be sketched: *the “Pareto” paradigm, based on Walrasian and Paretian theories; *the “Structure” paradigm, based on Keynesian, Schumpeterian and “old” Institutional theories; *the “Competition” paradigm, based on neo-Institutional and Public Choice theories; *the “Dynamics” paradigm, based on Evolutionary and neo-Austrian theories. Then, discontinuities in public intervention will appear as a consequence of exploiting a new prevailing paradigm. In the second part of the paper, six Italian transport policies – starting from those of the ‘60s up to those under discussion today * will be briefly considered: *out-of-date transport policies: “The building of infrastructures: a macro-economic policy” and “Transportation: a ‘political’ service”; *up-to-date transport policies: “Competition: a panacea” and “Reducing transport externalities: an appealing slogan”; *transport policies of tomorrow: “Integration and logistics to play a role in global competition” and “From state-aids to the promotion of innovation”. In the third part, links between the six Italian transport policies and the four paradigms of public intervention will be explicitly analyzed. Two results will be shown: 1. The today prevailing “Competition” paradigm is not adequate to promote and to make viable a necessary process of creation of radically new transport systems; 2. Therefore, “Structure” and “Dynamics” paradigms will be advocated as bases of a “new” transport policy. Finally, some issues to thoroughly examine these two results will be drawn.


Permission to publish abstract given by AET.