One of the guiding tenets of government is providing for the public good, often by offering services that, due to scale or cost, cannot be manifested privately or individually. The administration and management of these services is generally referred to as public policy. There are a number of public policy issues that are traditionally more important and controversial than others.
Some of the oldest and most timeless public policy issues include public health, public welfare, police and fire service, and transportation. Early civilizations, such as those in Greece, Rome, and the Middle East, grappled with the provision of public services, like supplying fresh water and the construction of roads. These ancient communities had to not only address the logistics of offering such services, but also had to reach a consensus on how to pay for them. This was generally accomplished through taxation.
Other public policy issues have evolved over time. Since the Victorian era, there has been an increasing public demand for sanitation, communications infrastructure, mass transit, and many other services that have been created as a result of technology. Another growing issue in the 21st century is environmentalism and conservation, particularly with respect to energy.
In modern times, public policy has evolved into an academic and professional field, for which a number of advanced degrees are available. Those who study public policy issues at the graduate level may earn masters and doctorate degrees in the field. They can then go on to a number of different careers. There is also a professional association for those in public policy, known as the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.
Public policy issues are not simply the domain of publicly elected officials. As more money and other resources are devoted to public spending, so-called special interests — which range from non-profit charities to groups in the private sector — lobby lawmakers to pass legislation beneficial to their causes. Other lobbyists also exist to try to curb public spending and lower taxes.
With the proliferation of the Internet and its various forms of instant communication, involvement in public policy issues has become ever more democratized. Concerned citizens may access many of the same data sources as legislators and lobbyists, and build grassroots movements for or against any issue about which they feel strongly. Where once the debate over public policy was restricted only to the ruling class, it is now possible for virtually anyone with an opinion to weigh in and help shape the result.