'Public choice models of bureaucracy are theoretically flawed

and empirically inaccurate, yet public choice "solutions" seem

   to work.'  Discuss in the light of recent changes in the

                    British public sector.

"Not only does a bureaucracy...tend to under-government, in

point of quality; it tends to over-government in point of

quantity...A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to

augment official power, official business, or official

members, rather than to leave free the energies of mankind..."

(Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (1867) page 197).

"In the past, Governments have progressively increased the

number of tasks that the Civil Service is asked to do without

paying sufficient attention to the need for economy and

efficiency...The present Government are committed both to a

reduction in tasks and to better management."  (Margaret

Thatcher (statement in the House of Commons 13 May 1980),

quoted in Dunsire and Hood, Cutback Management in Public

Bureaucracies (1989) page 18).

Walter Bagehot, writing as he did at a time when the public

sector was considerably smaller than it is today, clearly

shows in the above quote that lack of trust in the workings of

bureaucracy is not a new phenomenon.  Although the best-known

work in the field of public choice theory is to be found in

the writers of the 1960s and 70s, Niskanen and Downs were

certainly very much influenced by the writings of Bagehot and

de Tocqueville from the 19th century.  It is though only with

the election of a Conservative government, under Margaret

Thatcher in 1979, that these theories of bureaucratic

inefficiency and over-production were to come to the fore and

be espoused in government policy.  A series of reforms of the

British public sector, that began immediately after the

Conservatives came into office, was to attempt to radically

reshape the system, and leant heavily on those solutions

suggested by the public choice theorists.

So how accurate is public choice theory in describing

bureaucratic behaviour, and how effective has it been in

providing solutions to what it sees as inadequacies within

public administration?  Perhaps the best way to tackle this

question is to look at the public choice models themselves and

the solutions that they suggest, before turning to the ways

that their recommendations have been implemented and the

effectiveness that such policies have had in reshaping the

British public sector.

"A bureaucracy is a particular form of organisation comprised

of a set of bureaus or agencies, such that the overall

bureaucracy is a system of consciously coordinated activities

which has been explicitly created to achieve specific ends."

(Jackson, 1982, 121).  For the purposes of this essay, we are

obviously largely restricting this definition to discussion of

public sector bureaucracies, or those which are funded by, and

supposedly carry out the policies of, governments.  Within

bureaucracies, "Bureaucrats are officials working permanently

for large...organisations in circumstances where their own

contribution to organizational effectiveness cannot be

directly evaluated."  (Dunleavy, 1991, 148).

It is the behaviour of public sector bureaucrats which is at

the heart of public choice theory.  While they are supposed to

work in the public interest, putting into practice the

policies of government as efficiently and effectively as

possible, public choice theorists see bureaucrats as self-

interested utility-maximisers, motivated by such factors as:

"salary, prerequisites of the office, public reputation,

power, patronage...and the ease of managing the bureau."

(Niskanen, 1973, 22).

At the heart of all public choice theories then is the notion

that an official at any level, be they in the public or

private sector, "acts at least partly in his own self-

interest, and some officials are motivated solely by their own

self-interest."  (Downs, 1967, 83).  For Downs, broader

motivations such as pride in performance, loyalty to a

programme, department or government, and a wish to best serve

their fellow citizens may also affect a bureaucrat's

behaviour, and the level to which self-interest plays a role

in decisions is different for each of five bureaucratic

personality types that he identifies.  For Niskanen, self-

interest is the sole motivator.  

This is not a problem in the private sector, where profits are

the main goal.  The success of the private firm is measured by

its profits, and as high company profits offer greater job

security and the increased possibility of performance-related

perks, the interest of the worker (at management as well as

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lower levels) is the same as that of the company.  The private

sector bureaucrat maximises their utility by maximising

company profits.

In most parts of the public sector however, the profit

motivation is absent.  The bureaucrat will still aim to

maximise their utility.  While Downs claims that this is put

into practice through distorting of information,

discriminatory response to orders and analysing policy options

in terms of self-interest, Niskanen argues that a bureaucrat's

utility is best-maximised simply by maximising their budget.

This brings about increases in salary, power etc. and

increases promotion prospects.  It is also essential as ...

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