Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism


Economic individualism and market-based values dominate today's policymaking and public management circles -- often at the expense of the common good. In his new book, Barry Bozeman demonstrates the continuing need for public interest theory in government. Public Values and Public Interest offers a direct theoretical challenge to the "utility of economic individualism," the prevailing political theory in the western world.

The book's arguments are steeped in a practical and practicable theory that advances public interest as a viable and important measure in any analysis of policy or public administration. According to Bozeman, public interest theory offers a dynamic and flexible approach that easily adapts to changing situations and balances today's market-driven attitudes with the concepts of common good advocated by Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and John Dewey.

In constructing the case for adopting a new governmental paradigm based on what he terms "managing publicness," Bozeman demonstrates why economic indices alone fail to adequately value social choice in many cases. He explores the implications of privatization of a wide array of governmental services -- among them Social Security, defense, prisons, and water supplies. Bozeman constructs analyses from both perspectives in an extended study of genetically modified crops to compare the policy outcomes using different core values and questions the public value of engaging in the practice solely for the sake of cheaper food.

Thoughtful, challenging, and timely, Public Values and Public Interest shows how the quest for fairness can once again play a full part in public policy debates and public administration.


It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these
clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good.

—JAMES madison, The Federalist No. 10

No deliberation of politics and political theory claims a more venerable heritage than the dialogues on the existence, nature, and requirements of the “public interest” or the “common good.” in Aristotle's Politics, the “common interest” (to koinei sympheron) is the rationale for proper constitutions; St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae identifies the common good (bonum commune) as the worthy goal of government; Locke's Second Treatise of Government declares that “the peace, safety, and public good of the people” are the transcendent political purposes.

We need not go back hundreds of years to find interest in public interest theory. in the early years of the twentieth century, many prominent political scientists paid homage to the idea of the public interest. Pendleton Herring's (1936) reconciliation theory was premised on public managers' ability to divine the common good; Emmette Redford (1954) viewed the public interest as the key to effective regulatory administration; Phillip Monypenny (1953) anchored his public administration ethical code in a concept of the public interest. Even the foundation stone of American public administration, Woodrow Wilson's (1955) Study of Administration, originally published in 1887, set its famous politics/administration dichotomy in a concept of the collective good (Rutgers 1997).

Nowadays, many sophisticates' reaction to public interest appeals is much the same as nonbelievers' responses to discussions of God and the afterlife: nervous embarrassment tempered by a faint hope for some alternative to the void. How did this happen? the reasons for a decline in public interest argument and theorizing are many and varied. Social and academic fashion seems to have played a role. the development of quantitative social sciences and its inexhaustible demand for empirical evidence lessened our patience for topics . . .

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