what you get here

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!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Missing history of administrative reform

Worked non-stop all Saturday on this briefing paper on Chinese administrative reform (Friday’s draft is here). Two developments got the creative juices flowing - first I discovered a method for giving my website papers higher visibility on the internet - I simply choose a title for a blog posting which is the same as one already on the first page of google search and then ensure there is a link in the blog post to my paper! So, as I scribble (or whatever word now captures the key tapping we all do now) I can imagine my phrases and insights hitting a spellbound global audience. Dream on!
Then, as I was grappling with the question of the lessons from 40 years of reform efforts in Western Europe, I was suddenly reminded of my 1999 book - in which I had tried to explain west european public admin reform to a central european audience. I was amazed to find that the argument and text still stands up pretty well eleven years on – and have duly uploaded it to the website - In Transit - notes on Good Governance Part I. What I had tried to do in chapter Four of that book was to emphasise how varied were the „explanations” we had in the 1970s about the sort of problem which required „reform”; and, therefore, how differently (despite the talk of New Public Management - NPM) reform programmes developed in different countries. I had also explained how, in the 1970s, the new breed of policy analysts had almost given up on the hope of getting the bureaucracy to operate in the interests of the public - „disjointed incrementalism” was the best that could be hoped for. And how public choice theory came along to give an ideological explanation and justification for what came to be called NPM. I was fighting bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s with a different (and simpler) theory – what I called the „pincer approach”- a combination of community action and strategic management led by politicians and explained in paper 50 of my website – Organisational Learning and Political Amnesia. In the 1980s, I was using the pamphlets of the Institute of Economic Affairs (on issue like road-pricing) with my students to show the practical applications to which economics could be put – never imagining that such neo-liberal thinking would soon dominate government policies. But in the mid 1980s I remember reading a long article by a neo-liberal American academic in The Economist about the need to introduce a split between purchasers and providers into the health system – and sending it with a warning note to the (Labour) Opposition spokesman in Parliament.
The technocratic fix of (young) consultants misses completely this politico-historical side of things – and I realise that my personal history (and extensive reading and international experience) gives me a fairly unique perspective on this issue of administrative reform. Anyway it encourages me to think I have!

And that is a good opening for a bit of trumpet-blowing. I got a very nice note a few weeks back from Tom Gallagher (author of Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism and Illusion of Freedom; Scotland under nationalism and many other books) whom I had met up with for the first time in Bucharest in late November. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his note which read -
“I came to Carpathian Musings fairly late in the day but I soon grew to appreciate the intellectual fire-power and also the aesthetic pleasures to be derived from following your thoughts and also your experiences in Romanian city and countryside. Indeed, I can't think of any other blog that works so well at very different levels; you are able to switch (seemingly effortlessly) from discussing the current deep politico-economic crisis, to appraising the books you are reading, casting a beedy eye on the delusional university world, to passing on your experiences as a bon vivant, sampling the cornucopia of seasonal foods, wines and your trophies from the fairs and antique market. You also explore your own life in an honest and constructive way. So you manage to be a cross between JK Galbraith, Fred Halliday, Egon Ronay and Dennis Healey - quite a feat”.
Praise indeed - particularly from such a writer! I have been trying to insert it as one of my list of quotes in the right-hand column of the site but have been foiled so far!

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