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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weber and NPM


Superb cloudless sky - and last night the full moon lit up the landscape beautifully. Had trouble with an Amazon delivery yesterday - they had sent it UPS and it landed up in the wrong village. But an hour there the package was - on my neighbour's table. And one of the items is mouth watering - How to live - a life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell.

On the Saturday post I promised to give some excerpts from Dreschler's Rise and Demise of NPM. I hope you'll find this syfficiently tantalising to go and read the full paper -w hich you will find on my website
NPM is based on the understanding that all human behavior is always motivated by self-interest and, specifically, profit maximization. It assumes that everything relevant can be quantified; qualitative judgments are not necessary. It is popularly denoted by concepts such as project management, flat hierarchies, customer orientation, abolition of career civil service, depolitization, total quality management, and contracting-out.
NPM is part of the neo-classical economic imperialism within the social sciences, i.e. the tendency to approach all questions with neo-classical economic methods.
In advanced PA scholarship itself, especially – but not only – in Europe, NPM is on the defensive by now, if taken as a world view (i.e. an ideology), rather than as one of several useful perspectives for PA reform (i.e. part of a pluralistic approach). The question here is more whether one favours post-NPM (anti-NPM) or post-post-NPM, Weberian-based PA, the latter being the most advanced, and the most sophisticated, and now called the Neo-Weberian State (NWS). What was an option ten years ago is not an option anymore today. I would say that in PA
• in 1995, it was still possible to believe in NPM, although there were the first strong and substantial critiques
• in 2000, NPM was on the defensive, as empirical findings spoke clearly against it as well
• in 2005, NPM is not a viable concept anymore

Yet, in many areas, both of scholarship and of the world, as well as in policy, NPM is very alive and very much kicking. It is, therefore, necessary to look both at the concept itself and at the reasons for its success.

The use of business techniques within the public sphere thus confuses the most basic requirements of any state, particularly of a Democracy, with a liability: regularity, transparency, and due process are simply much more important than low costs and speed.
If you go for savings and neglect context and even the actual goals, you will not be efficient but rather the ultimate wastrel. This misunderstanding of the concept of efficiency and the depolitization that comes with it are typical symptoms of technocracy and bureaucracy, which NPM professes to oppose but which, as Eugenie Samier has demonstrated, it rather fosters. (2001)
The catchword promises have empirically not been delivered – flat hierarchies are a matter of appropriateness and depend in their suitability entirely on context; taking the citizen merely as customer takes away her participatory rights and duties and thus hollows out the state; the abolition of career civil service will usually let administrative capacity erode; depolitization – and thus de-democratization – leads to the return of the imperial bureaucrat (in its worst sense, disguised as the entrepreneurial bureaucrat – same power, less responsibility); and contracting-out has proven to be excessively expensive and often infringing on core competences of the state as well as on the most basic standards of equity. Total Quality Management is actually not necessarily an NPM concept; it can be just as well used elsewhere and was actually always understood to be part of a well-working PA; project management may frequently work, but as a principle and in the long run, it is more expensive and less responsible than the traditional approach.

The counter-model to NPM, indeed its bĂȘte noire, is what is called “Weberian PA”. This label is highly problematic, as NPM presents a caricature of it and thus builds up a paper tiger. Its namesake himself, the great German sociologist and economist Max Weber, did not even particularly like the model of PA so described; he only saw it, rightly, as the most rational and efficient one for his time, and the one towards which PA would tend. That this is by and large still the case 80 years later if one looks at the model rather than at its caricature is something that would have probably surprised him quite a bit. (He also described, almost clairvoyantly, the NPM system, which for him was the most dehumanizing of organizational forms; see Samier 2001.)
Apart from the caricature, for Weber, the most efficient PA was a set of offices in which ap¬pointed civil servants operated under the principles of merit selection (impersonality), hier¬archy, the division of labor, exclusive employment, career advancement, the written form, and legality. This increase of rationality – his key term – would increase speed, scope, predict-ability, and cost-effectiveness, as needed for an advanced mass-industrial society. (Weber 1922: esp. 124-130) And although we are well beyond such a world – and in what we may or may not call the “network society” –, these, or almost all of these, are not obsolete criteria, but in fact, they are exceedingly close to most of the recent large-scale principles of PA reform agendas worldwide, including the European Admin¬istrative Space’s main standards of reliability and predictability, openness and transparency, accountability, and efficiency and effectiveness (SIGMA 1998: 8-14). Most certainly, they are closer to responsible PA reform than the catchwords of NPM.

The Neo-Weberian State
And yet, of course there are legitimate problems with many a bureaucracy, there are still very self-centered administrations that hinder economic development rather than fostering it, there is the frequent legalistic domination of PA – and of lawyers within the civil service – that is preventing a problem-solving approach, and there are organizational changes and other shifts in public life that distance us from the Twenties. But the Weberian system has actually (been) adapted to them very successfully, as Continental PA always has. Both to characterize these and to denote a post-post-NPM, synergetic system of PA, perhaps a specifically European one that is not a NPM “laggard” but the opposite, Pollitt and Bouckaert, in what is now the standard book on Public Management Reform, have coined in the second edition (September 2004) the term “Neo-Weberian State” or NWS. I think it is wise to accept that label for the sake of clarity and uniformity, even if I do not agree completely with all details (for my earlier thought on the matter, see Drechsler 2003, 2005a, upon which much of the current article is based), and even though the Weber label might not be “cool” enough for the consultancy circuit. The respective outline of the NWS will be quoted here in full, rather than paraphrased:

‘Weberian’ Elements
• Reaffirmation of the role of the state as the main facilitator of solutions to the new problems of globalization, technological change, shifting demographics, and environmental threat
• Reaffirmation of the role of representative democracy (central, regional, and local) as the legitimating element within the state apparatus
• Reaffirmation of administrative law – suitably modernized – in preserving the basic principles pertaining to the citizen-state relationship, including equality before the law, legal security, and the availability of specialized legal scrutiny of state actions
• Preservation of the idea of a public service with a distinct status, culture, and terms and conditions

‘Neo’ Elements
• Shift from an internal orientation towards bureaucratic rules towards an external orientation towards meeting citizens’ needs and wishes. The primary route to achieving this is not the employment of market mechanisms (although they may occasionally come in handy) but the creation of a professional culture of quality and service
• Supplementation (not replacement) of the role of representative democracy by a range of devices for consultation with, and direct representation of, citizens’ views (…)
• In the management of resources within government, a modernization of the relevant laws to encourage a greater orientation on the achievements of results rather than merely the correct following of procedure. This is expressed partly in a shift from ex ante to ex post controls, but not a complete abandonment of the former
• A professionalization of the public service, so that the ‘bureaucrat’ becomes not simply an expert in the law relevant to his or her sphere of activity, but also a professional manager, oriented to meeting the needs of his or her citizen/users (99-100)

Good Governance: The Back Door
This being realized, it is now important to beware of the “thief that cometh in the night.” NPM may be in demise – but what about the currently ever-so-popular concept of Good Governance? Arising, once again, in the 1980s in the International Finance Institutions (IFI’s), this was a positive extrapolation from the negative experiences that these organizations had had in the “developing” countries by observing that financial aid seemed to have had no effects. From this, they deduced an absence of institutions, principles, and structures, the entirety of which was called “Governance” – and “Good Governance” when they worked well. A good idea as such – but the provenience, the same as with NPM, may make us halt, and rightly.
By and large, the term “Governance” has by now become a more or less neutral concept that focuses on steering mechanisms in a certain political unit, emphasizing the interaction of state (First), business (Second), and society (Third Sector) players. “Good Governance”, on the other hand, is not at all neutral; rather, it is a normative concept that again embodies a strong value judgment in favor of the retrenchment of the state, which is supposed to yield to Business standards, principles, and – not least – interests. In that sense, “Good Governance” privileges the Second over the First Sector, even in First Sector areas.
Within the state sector itself, many of the principles of “Good Governance” are therefore identical with NPM. And while a unitary definition of the concept never existed, not even within the respective individual IFI’s, “good” principles usually encompassed such concepts as transparency, efficiency, participation, responsibility, and market economy, state of law, democracy, and justice. Many of them are indubitably “good” as such, but all of them – except the last one, which is the most abstract – are heavily context-dependent, hinging not only on definition and interpretation, but also on time and place. Critics from the “developing” countries thus often saw and see the demand for “Good Governance” as a form of Neo-Colonialist Imperialism and as part of negative Globalization, since it demands the creation of institutions and structures before economic development, while all wealthy countries of the “West” established them only afterwards.

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