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What insights does bureaucratic theory give us about how government should be organised and what it should attempt to do?

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Introduction

What insights does bureaucratic theory give us about how government should be organised and what it should attempt to do? What is the Bureaucracy? Public resource allocation on a national scale inevitably creates significant requirements for administration. Therefore, even adopting the minimalist or "Night-watchman" conception of the state, it is clear that some level of administrative civil service is an inescapable part of government. The ideal of the liberal-pluralistic-democratic conception of bureaucracy is of a permanent professional, meritocratic civil service, which is both anonymous and non-partisan, and serves as a source of balanced advise, and an efficient mechanism for implementing and administering government policies. Conceptions of Bureaucracy Though there are many differing conceptions of how a liberal-pluralist bureaucracy actually works, there is nearly universal agreement that in reality, the bureaucracy functions quite differently to the efficient Weberian ideal. Downs's pluralist model of bureaucracy stresses the organisational limitations of a hierarchical bureaucracy. ...read more.

Middle

In a bureaucracy this is best achieved by increasing the size of the agency, since increased size leads to more prestige, more responsibility, higher remuneration, more perks and greater scope for promotion. Therefore, an individual bureau will seek to maximise its size (budget) within the constraints set by the controlling political authority. If the external authority is weak or fragmented, as is often the case in western democracies, or lacks detailed information on the costs faced by a department, then it can be relatively easy for a determined bureaucracy to increase its size. Consequences of Bureaucracy Bureaucracy may be seen as economic activity, since it uses inputs, processes them, and produces an output. However, virtually all economic processes ultimately exhibit diminishing returns to factor inputs, causing marginal benefits to drop below marginal costs. If rational bureaucracies have an incentive to maximise their budgets, and are subject to weak or fragmented political control, then it is highly likely that they will continue to expand their output of services, beyond the point where social benefits equal social costs, creating waste. ...read more.

Conclusion

Given that political control is inevitably weakened every time that a new political agent is given responsibility for the department, it may prove to be impossible to keep a bureaucracy under firm control. Therefore, if radical inefficiency is to be avoided in government, the scope of activities that bureaucracies are responsible for administering must be severely curtailed. Where bureaucracies are permitted, the lines of political control must be very clearly drawn to ensure that there are clear chains of command, otherwise a bureaucracy may seek to weaken oversight by playing political agents against each other (See "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister"). Essentially, this boils down to the Thatcherite critique of bureaucracy - all departments are too large, and too inefficient. Therefore, government should only seek to supply those goods/services which the free market is completely incapable/unwilling to supply - pure public goods. Seminar 5: "The Machine": The Bureaucracy & The Core Executive ...read more.

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