Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

By Barry Bozeman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE PRIVATIZATION
OF PUBLIC VALUE

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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