Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Gauging Social Justice: A Survey of Indices for Public Management

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Gauging Social Justice: A Survey of Indices for Public Management

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Social policy development is a fundamental topic in public management, and social policies commonly seek to restore or establish equity among groups of citizens within a plural state. One casualty of the rise of New Public Management has been the importance of social equity, which has assumed subordinate status compared to efficiency and effectiveness. New Public Management has also reified that which can be captured quantitatively, and social equity resists measurement. Equity measures can guide policy makers' efforts in agenda setting to identify areas of greater need, which is particularly important given scarce financial resources. We use the definition of equity put forth by Rawls and applied by Frederickson, and focus on equitable distribution of public goods and services. We then examine strengths and weaknesses of five equity measures. Consistent with the best contributions to public management, these five measures were developed in related disciplines and imported to public management. What is more, although these measures presuppose the use of large data sets, they have been employed to great effect in internationally-comparative research, for many of them allow researchers to use aggregated data such as country-level data, which is at times the only level of detail available. Finally, the measures we review need not rely on race and ethnicity as proxies for equity, which may be more appropriate in countries where economic disparities do not neatly coincide with demographic characteristics.

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Social equity remains underexplored, compared to efficiency and effectiveness, owing perhaps to the positivist underpinnings of the New Public Management, which dominates the field. Empirical analyses rely upon measureable constructs, and equity resists quantification to a greater degree than do efficiency and effectiveness. Few empirical studies have been conducted to evaluate to what extent social equity has been achieved due to a policy intervention. As Chitwood (1974) observes, scholars of public administration and management face considerable ambiguity when trying to determine the specified characteristics of a service whose magnitude determines the amount of service to be delivered. Challenges to policy implementation also include determining whether potential service recipients are eligible for benefits. Further, unequal treatment is often needed to achieve an equitable outcome, but unequal treatment is often unpopular. Measurement of equity becomes critical to determine the degree of inequality between groups, as well as how much unequal treatment is needed to remedy past injustices.

This paper is intended to demonstrate the measurability of social equity as the third pillar of public administration (Frederickson, 1990) by introducing indicators that can be used to evaluate to what extent a policy realizes the value of equity. Social equity is defined using Rawls' theory of justice and Frederickson's (1990) compound theory of equity. We propose measures borrowed from other social science fields to be applied to public management and administration by reviewing key inequality measures that have been used in social science research and discussing their strengths, weaknesses, and relevance to public management research. Equality measures can be applied to capture disproportionate distributions of services delivered by demographic category of recipients, or by geographic location/political entity. The contribution made by the measures is that they directly gauge how much more resources a disadvantaged group still needs in order to catch up with the rest of the society, or if the gap has been closed. Acknowledging the complexity of social equity issues in the context of growing disparities between haves and have-nots, we believe that any equity measure should be applicable to more than just race/ethnicity categories. Race and ethnicity are increasingly insufficient as simple proxies for socioeconomic status. …

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