chapter  1
Public administration and governing
Pages 32

I began the first edition of this book with the statement that government has become a pervasive fact of everyday life and that, in addition, public administra­ tion has become an especially pervasive aspect of government. This statement remained true despite the long terms in office of a number of conservative governments in many industrialized nations (Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushs in the United States, Margaret Thatcher and then John Major in the United Kingdom, Helmut Kohl and then Angela Merkl in West Germany). These governments were joined later by right­ of­center governments in unlikely places such as Denmark and Sweden. Despite their rhetoric, these governments were never able to reduce the size and influence government to any significant degree. Many contemporary governments from the political left are not the same types of social democrats as in the past (Gould, 1998). Most of these governments have accepted many of the same premises about the need to reduce the size of government, and have made concerted attempts to reduce the role of government in the lives of their citizens. Bill Clinton in the United States and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom both pledged to keep government small while, at the same time, using government as a positive instrument to improve the lives of their citizens. Social Democratic governments all over Europe, with the possible exception of France, have adopted some of the same rhetoric of the “Third Way,” albeit in varying degrees. Government is not the enemy that it was, and is, to some conservatives but neither is there much acceptance of the “tax and spend” behavior of left governments in the past, even in the Scandinavian governments. What is true for the industrialized democracies is especially true for countries of the former communist bloc, and for many developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin American. These political systems have undergone almost total transformations of their governmental structures and, particularly in the former communist systems, there is often a need felt to reduce the intrusiveness of government and to permit greater personal freedom – economically as well as politically (see Verheijen, 2007). These changes in values have been accompanied by radical transformations of the public sector. The changes included numerous public enterprises being privatized and public employment being downsized. Despite the best efforts of political leaders, however, an enhanced role for the public sector appears to persist in many countries, and in some cases that role even continues to increase. Leaders of governments have usually found government more difficult to control than they had believed before taking office. This chapter will attempt to document briefly the generalization – if indeed any documentation is required – that the public sector is difficult to control and even more difficult to “roll back.” Indeed, as the state is rolled back in some ways it almost inevitably must “roll forward” in others. Privatizing industries – especially public utilities – will mean that those industries will have to be regulated in some way to ensure that the public is treated fairly (Majone, 2005). The large­ scale privatization occurring in Eastern Europe has meant that legal principles like property rights and contracts, as well as regulatory mechanisms, must be created by government. In other countries, where the central government has assumed a smaller role in society, lower tiers of government have accepted enhanced roles, and in some cases whole new tiers of government have been created. (Loughlin, 2001; Horvath, 2000). In all of these cases, governments remain involved in the economy and society, just in less obvious ways.