International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

and wealth. Social advancement depends upon it. Public service is the area through which upward social mobility is achieved. There is thus strong social pressure to attend the top public grandes écoles, and in a system where each selection process reinforces another, those with the greatest success rates are children from families who already belong to the social elite. The ENA not only selects the top performers within a given age group and trains them for service to the state, through its intellectual but also social selection process, it also designates the members of the ruling political, economic, administrative, social, and cultural class ( Bodiguel 1992).

JEAN-LUC BODIGUEL
TRANS. BY JOY BUFFET


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bodiguel, Jean-Luc, 1978. Les anciens élèves de l'ENA. Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques

--, 1992. "Une voie de la promotion sociale: la fonction publique"? In S. Berstein and O. Rudelle, eds., Le modèle républicain. Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques

Bodiguel, Jean-Luc and Jean-Louis Quermonne, 1983. La haute fonction publique sous la Ve République. Paris: Presses universitaires de France

Bodiguel, Jean-Luc and Luc Rouban, 1991. Le fonctionnaire détrönö? Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques

Kesler, Jean-François, 1985. L'EENA, la société, l'Etat. Paris: Berger-Levrault

Kessler, Marie-Christine, 1978. La politique de la haute fonction publique. Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques.

ECONOMIC RATIONALISM. A public policy position which assumes that markets and money are the only reliable means of setting values on anything, or, alternatively, that economies, markets, and money can always, at least in principle, deliver better outcomes than states, bureaucracies, and the law.


Theoretical Framework

These are the normal assumptions of contemporary economics and of its offshoots in public choice and rational choice theories. Accordingly, economic rationalism is generally associated with the New Right in the political spectrum, with laissez-faire, economic liberalism, and mainstream U.S. and British public policy in the post-Keynesian period from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. These positions all contain, with varying degrees of intensity, negative evaluations of the role of the state in society. This has given rise to ideological comparisons with the former command economies of the communist world; inasmuch as these regimes do, conversely, assign primacy to coordination by states, bureaucracy, and the law, they do stand in polar opposition to economic rationalism. However, for most comparative purposes, the more useful contrast is with the Western European social democracies (especially the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and France), which reject economic rationalism in favor of public policies premised on a greater complementarity and balance between the two coordinating structures. Indeed the Social Charter of the European Economic Community may be construed as bulwark against a British and U.S. economic rationalism.

The case for economic rationalism takes its criteria of reason and rationality from modern economics. The individual is assumed to be an egoistic, self-interested homo economicus for whom rational action means the maximization of utilities, wealth, and advantage ( Brennan and Lomasky 1993). The implicit behaviorist psychology has its roots in classical utilitarianism and assumes that all significant motivations reduce to the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. Accordingly, economic rationalists equate rationality with the strategic, instrumental, or rational purposive action of individuals. From this perspective other actors are normally defined principally as competitors for scarce resources.

For these same reasons economic rationalists place little or no faith at all in cooperative action and still less in any form of collective action. As utilitarian welfare economics has come under fire in recent times ( Sen 1987, 1988) economic rationalists and like-minded public policy specialists have found other philosophical defences for their neoconservative and anticollectivist orientations. These have come in the main from the neo-libertarian rights-based liberalism of Hayek ( 1960), Rawls(1971), Nozick (1974), and Dworkin(1978) that has given normative force to the right of the individual to freedom of choice. Such theories explicitly treat virtue, merit, and needs as morally arbitrary constructs that may not be used, under any circumstances, to legitimate redistributive policies, or any other structures or actions of governments that could trespass on individual freedom of exchange in the marketplace. This involves a more or less complete rejection, a priori, of modern notions of citizenship, participative democracy, community, and social justice.


Goals of Economic Rationalism

Not surprisingly we find that this view contains its own criteria for institutional design and reform. Here there is always a preference for what are called, after Adam Smith, invisible hand mechanisms, or, in other words, for a coordination of individual actions that is achieved through

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