Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens

By Julian Le Grand | Go to book overview

2 Knights and Knaves in the Public Sector: What Do We Mean and What Do We Know?

No man giveth but with intention of Good to himselfe, because Gift is Voluntary; and, of all voluntary acts, the Object is to every man his own Good.

(Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan)

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.

(Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments)

You might not see one in a hundred with gentleman so plainly written as in Mr Knightley.

(Jane Austen, Emma)
The previous chapter spelt out how, in the closing years of the twentieth century, several countries, including Britain, saw some significant changes in policy-makers' perceptions about motivation and agency: changes that in turn led to radical reforms in the way in which public services were delivered. In particular, a belief that those who worked in a public service had as their principal aim not the satisfaction of their own desires but meeting the needs of the essentially passive beneficiaries of the service was replaced by a conviction that public service workers were motivated largely by self-interest and that users of services were (or should be) active consumers. This led to a policy drive to replace state-based delivery systems by market-based ones, which were viewed as better placed to harness the forces of self-interest to serve the (newly discovered) consumers of public services. Systems run by knights for the benefits of pawns were to be replaced by ones run by knaves

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