Are Bureaucrats Budget-Maximizers?
Even if bureaucrats carry out the wishes of the voters and the decisions of politicians by performing various sorts of tasks, it is, according to the third assumption of the public-choice school, their self-interest that best accounts for their actions. It is not a will to be the loyal servant that leads bureaucrats constantly to expand their administration but rather, it is claimed, an ambition to improve their salaries and other perquisites. What has lent this idea certain credence is of course the rapid expansion of the public sector in the last few decades. Everyone knows that the number of bureaucrats has increased again and again. In many quarters this development is regarded as a serious strain on the political system with the consequence that the political debate during the 1980s has come to be characterized by cries for budget cuts and a general critique of bureaucracy.
To accept the self-interest hypothesis on the evidence of such administrative expansion is however to buy a pig in a poke. Before jumping to conclusions one should look to see if there are not other explanations of the growth of the public sector. In this chapter the hypothesis that the growth of bureaucracy is best explained by the self-interest of the bureaucrats will be critically examined.
As was mentioned in Chapter 1, the hypothesis has been formulated by such leading members of the public-choice school as Tullock, Downs, and Niskanen. The latter's study Bureaucracy and Representative Government ( 1971) has come to be the most renowned and will be taken here to represent the position of the public-choice school regarding the third level--bureaucracy--in our analysis of self- interest and public interest in Western politics.
Economists have developed a demand model to depict consumer