Condemned to Complexity? Growing State Activity and Complex Policy Systems

Julian Limberg, Christoph Knill, Yves Steinebach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does growing state activity inevitably lead to more complex policy systems? In this article, we offer a new, comprehensive approach that systematically differentiates between the size and the complexity of policy portfolios to answer this question. Looking at data from 21 OECD countries over more than three decades (1980 to 2015) in the areas of social and environmental policy, we find substantial variation in the size and complexity of policy portfolios. While larger state activity is generally associated with growing complexity, this relation still varies both between countries and over time. Our finding suggests that increasing policy complexity is not a ‘natural given’ but that two of the major trends of the last decades – growing state activity and global political integration – provided a very fertile ground that fosters policy complexity. These findings have important implications for analysing macro patterns of state activity in the 21st century.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Feb 2022


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