From Greek Mythology to the Real World of the New Public Management and Democratic Governance (Terry Responds)

Article excerpt

I would like to thank the editors of the Public Administration Review (PAR) for this opportunity to respond to Professor Howard Frant's (in this issue) critical review of my article, "Administrative Leadership, Neo-Managerialism and the Public Management Movement" (PAR, May/June, 1998). I also wish to thank Professor Frant for accepting the public invitation to engage in a constructive and meaningful dialogue on the New Public Management and its implications for democratic governance. Professor Frant is a thoughtful scholar, and I respect his unwavering commitment to organizational economics and public choice theory. I also acknowledge and appreciate the important contributions that organizational economics and public choice theory have made to the literature of public administration, political science, management and organization theory. All theoretical perspectives have value. I take to heart Laurence O'Toole's (1995) sage admonition that "we should be critical of much that has been accepted, but we should treat as serious -- and at a minimum as a source of insights -- much of what we criticize and question ... " (294). Professor Frant raises several issues that are useful in moving the New Public Management conversation forward. While I do not agree with his interpretation of my work, I am indebted to him for advancing my thinking on a subject of utmost theoretical and practical importance.

In the pages that follow, I challenge Professor Frant's assertion that the neo-managerialist ideology described in my article "does not exist." I also take issue with the contention that I have misinterpreted the managerialist ideology and microeconomic theories underpinning the New Public Management. I argue that Professor Frant's steadfast defense of economic agency theory, public choice theory, and public entrepreneurship has created a blindspot. Unfortunately, this blind-spot has prompted him to ignore or downplay some troublesome aspects of microeconomic theory and public entrepreneurship that are widely recognized in the scholarly literature.

After briefly summarizing my article to reacquaint PAR readers with its central arguments, I review Professor Frant's critical commentary. This discussion establishes the context and a basis of my response. I then address specific criticisms outlined in Professor Frant's essay. I make the case that his pertinacious commitment to organizational economics and public entrepreneurship has clouded his vision, prompting him to pursue a line of argument filled with puzzling assertions and contradictions.

Neo-Managerialism and the New Public Management: The Argument Revisited

In "Administrative Leadership, Neo-Managerialism, and the Public Management Movement" (1998), I argued that scholars in the public policy community used several different approaches to advance the understanding of public management research, theory, and practice. I classified these approaches broadly as quantitative/analytic management, political management, liberation management, and market-driven management (194-196). I suggested that while they differed in their basic orientation, these approaches had at least one thing in common: Each was influenced by the managerialist ideology. Drawing on the widely cited work of Christopher Pollitt (1990), I contended that the managerialist ideology (or "managerialism" as it often called) consists of a set of beliefs, values, and ideas about how the world is and how it ought to be. In brief, the managerialist ideology suggests that "management is important and good"; public managers would do well if they adopted "good business practices" found in the private sector (Pollitt, 1990, 7). I indicated that the managerialism discussed by Pollitt was an "updated version of the older tradition rooted in the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor" (196).

I also asserted that the Neo-Taylorist managerialism described by Pollitt has been combined with organizational economics (agency theory and transaction-cost economics) and public choice theory. …