Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Administration, Market Values, & the Public Interest: A Kohlbergian Perspective

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Administration, Market Values, & the Public Interest: A Kohlbergian Perspective

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

At the heart of the New Public Management (NPM) philosophy is a commitment to competitive market models of organizational behavior, the conceptualization of citizens as customers, and the glorification of entrepreneurial management (de Leon and Denhardt, 2000). In this vein, Osborne and Gaebler (1992) argue that the public institutions that were developed in the past cannot serve us well today, and that the modern environment requires institutions that are extremely flexible, competitive, and able to squeeze "ever more bang out of every buck" (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992, p. 15). Accordingly, the argument goes, we have "the wrong kind of government," and the answer is to create an "entrepreneurial" government--a government rooted in the values of the competitive market--to take its place (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992, p. 23). To that end, in their description of strategies that can be used to create entrepreneurial government, Osborne and Plastrik (1997) write:

The most powerful approach is to force public service delivery organizations to function as business enterprises with financial bottom lines, preferably in competitive markets. We call this enterprise management. Rather than acquiring their government revenues from government appropriations of tax dollars, these public enterprises earn money by selling goods and services directly to their customers. To earn their keep, in other words, they must succeed in the marketplace (p. 130-131).

Critics of NPM, on the other hand, argue that the values associated with the market, when applied to the administrative agencies of government, can in fact work against the public interest. Along those lines, David Rosenbloom (1998) has argued that by reformulating public administration to incorporate the theories, concepts, and practices of business, the field is being returned to the roots of its orthodoxy. Rosenbloom contends that making the values of the market compatible with the values of the U.S. Constitution presents a challenge that proponents of NPM have not adequately addressed. Thus, "as deregulated agencies and empowered employees inevitably make controversial choices with public authority and money, steps to place public administration back in the harness of public law will be equally inevitable" (Rosenbloom, 1998, p. 655). Similarly, the late Larry Terry (1998) contended that the principles of NPM represent a threat to democratic governance. As Professor Terry put it, a devotion to the concepts of competitive markets and entrepreneurialism raises doubts "among those committed to democratic ideals as to whether the public entrepreneur is able or willing to abandon self-interested behavior in favor of the public interest" (Terry, 1998, p. 198). He concluded that advocates of public entrepreneurialism "are oblivious to other values highly prized in the U.S. constitutional democracy," including "... values such as fairness, justice, or participation" (Terry, 1998, p. 198).

If such arguments are correct, then the imposition of market values on public sector organizations is cause for serious concern, especially given the central role that values play in administrative behavior and decision making (Molina, 2009). According to Milton Rokeach (1973), values are enduring cognitive-emotional preferences for particular modes of conduct or end-states that serve as standards for guiding action, developing attitudes, and making moral judgments. Different values, however, may suggest different and conflicting courses of action, a condition called 'value pluralism,' which has important implications for administrative practice (Spicer, 2001; Wagenaar, 1999). Such differences, of course, can be exaggerated. Research indicates, for example, that values such as accountability, expertise, honesty, and reliability, may be considered "common core organizational values" found in organizations across sectors (van der Wal & Huberts, 2008). Nevertheless, market values such as entrepreneurialism, competition, profitability, and economic individualism, when imposed on public organizations, come into direct conflict with key public values such as rule of law, transparency, participation, and social equity (Bozeman, 2007; Stone, 2012). …

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