State Government Bureaucracy Essay

For other uses, see Bureaucracy (disambiguation).

Bureaucracy () refers to both a body of non-elective government officials and an administrative policy-making group.[1] Historically, a bureaucracy was a government administration managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials.[2] Today, bureaucracy is the administrative system governing any large institution, whether publicly owned or privately owned.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The public administration in many countries is an example of a bureaucracy, but so is the centralized hierarchical structure of a business firm.

Since being coined, the word bureaucracy has developed negative connotations.[10] Bureaucracies have been criticized as being inefficient, convoluted, or too inflexible to individuals.[11] The dehumanizing effects of excessive bureaucracy became a major theme in the work of German-language writer Franz Kafka and are central to his novels The Trial and The Castle.[12] The elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy is a key concept in modern managerial theory[13] and has been an issue in some political campaigns.[14]

Others have noted the necessity of bureaucracies in modern life. The German sociologist Max Weber argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which one can organize the human activity and that systematic processes and organized hierarchies are necessary to maintain order, maximize efficiency, and eliminate favoritism. On the other hand, Weber also saw unfettered bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, with the potential of trapping individuals in an impersonal "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control.[15][16]

Etymology and usage[edit]

The term "bureaucracy" is French in origin and combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος (Kratos) – rule or political power.[17] It was coined in the mid-18th century by the French economist Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay[18] and was a satirical pejorative from the outset.[19] Gournay never wrote the term down but was later quoted at length in a letter from a contemporary:

The late M. de Gournay... sometimes used to say: "We have an illness in France which bids fair to play havoc with us; this illness is called bureaumania." Sometimes he used to invent a fourth or fifth form of government under the heading of "bureaucracy."

— Baron von Grimm[10]

The first known English-language use dates to 1818.[17] Here, too, the sense was pejorative, with Irish novelist Lady Morgan referring to "the Bureaucratie, or office tyranny, by which Ireland has so long been governed."[20] By the mid-19th century, the word was being used in a more neutral sense, referring to a system of public administration in which offices were held by unelected career officials. In this sense "bureaucracy" was seen as a distinct form of management, often subservient to a monarchy.[21] In the 1920s, the definition was expanded by the German sociologist Max Weber to include any system of administration conducted by trained professionals according to fixed rules.[21] Weber saw the bureaucracy as a relatively positive development; however, by 1944 the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises noted that the term bureaucracy was "always applied with an opprobrious connotation,"[22] and by 1957 the American sociologist Robert Merton noted that the term "bureaucrat" had become an epithet.[23]



Although the term "bureaucracy" was not coined until the mid 18th century, organized and consistent administrative systems are much older. The development of writing (ca. 3500 BC) and the use of documents was critical to the administration of this system, and the first definitive emergence of bureaucracy is in ancient Sumer, where an emergent class of scribes used clay tablets to administer the harvest and allocate its spoils.[24]Ancient Egypt also had a hereditary class of scribes that administered the civil service bureaucracy.[25]

The Roman Empire was administered by a hierarchy of regional proconsuls and their deputies. The reforms of Diocletian doubled the number of administrative districts and led to a large-scale expansion of Roman bureaucracy.[26] The early Christian author Lactantius claimed that Diocletian's reforms led to widespread economic stagnation, since "the provinces were divided into minute portions, and many presidents and a multitude of inferior officers lay heavy on each territory."[27] After the Empire split, the Byzantine Empire developed a notoriously complicated administrative hierarchy, and in time the term "Byzantine" came to refer to any complex bureaucratic structure.[28]

In Ancient China, the Han dynasty established a complicated bureaucracy based on the teachings of Confucius, who emphasized the importance of ritual in a family, relationships, and politics.[29] With each subsequent Dynasty, the bureaucracy evolved. During the Song dynasty, the bureaucracy became meritocratic. Following the Song reforms, competitive exams were held to determine who was qualified to hold a given position.[30] The imperial examination system lasted until 1905, six years before the collapse of the Qing dynasty, marking the end of China's traditional bureaucratic system.[citation needed]


The United Kingdom[edit]

A modern form of bureaucracy evolved in the expanding Department of Excise in the United Kingdom during the 18th century.[citation needed][original research?] The relative efficiency and professionalism in this state-run authority allowed the government to impose a very large tax burden on the population and raise great sums of money for war expenditure. According to Niall Ferguson, the bureaucracy was based on "recruitment by examination, training, promotion on merit, regular salaries and pensions, and standardized procedures".[31] The system was subject to a strict hierarchy and emphasis was placed on technical and efficient methods for tax collection.[citation needed]

Instead of the inefficient and often corrupt system of tax farming that prevailed in absolutist states such as France, the Exchequer was able to exert control over the entire system of tax revenue and government expenditure.[32] By the late 18th century, the ratio of fiscal bureaucracy to population in Britain was approximately 1 in 1300, almost four times larger than the second most heavily bureaucratized nation, France.[33] Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China (1847) that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic.[34] Influenced by the ancient Chinese imperial examination, the Northcote–Trevelyan Report of 1854 recommended that recruitment should be on the basis of merit determined through competitive examination, candidates should have a solid general education to enable inter-departmental transfers, and promotion should be through achievement rather than "preferment, patronage, or purchase".[35][34] This led to implementation of Her Majesty's Civil Service as a systematic, meritocratic civil service bureaucracy.[36]


Like the British, the development of French bureaucracy was influenced by the Chinese system. Under Louis XIV of France, the old nobility had neither power nor political influence, their only privilege being exemption from taxes. The dissatisfied noblemen complained about this "unnatural" state of affairs, and discovered similarities between absolute monarchy and bureaucratic despotism.[37] With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancien regime of Europe.[38]Voltaire claimed that the Chinese had "perfected moral science" and François Quesnay advocated an economic and political system modeled after that of the Chinese.

Napoleonic France adopted this meritocracy system [38] and soon saw a rapid and dramatic expansion of government, accompanied by the rise of the French civil service and its complex systems of bureaucracy. This phenomenon became known as "bureaumania". In the early 19th century, Napoleon attempted to reform the bureaucracies of France and other territories under his control by the imposition of the standardized Napoleonic Code. But paradoxically, this led to even further growth of the bureaucracy.[39]

Other industrialized nations[edit]

By the mid-19th century, bureaucratic forms of administration were firmly in place across the industrialized world. Thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx began to theorize about the economic functions and power-structures of bureaucracy in contemporary life. Max Weber was the first to endorse bureaucracy as a necessary feature of modernity, and by the late 19th century bureaucratic forms had begun their spread from government to other large-scale institutions.[21]

The trend toward increased bureaucratization continued in the 20th century, with the public sector employing over 5% of the workforce in many Western countries.[citation needed] Within capitalist systems, informal bureaucratic structures began to appear in the form of corporate power hierarchies, as detailed in mid-century works like The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations, a powerful class of bureaucratic administrators termed nomenklatura governed nearly all aspects of public life.[40]

The 1980s brought a backlash against perceptions of "big government" and the associated bureaucracy. Politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gained power by promising to eliminate government regulatory bureaucracies, which they saw as overbearing, and return economic production to a more purely capitalistic mode, which they saw as more efficient.[41][42] In the business world, managers like Jack Welch gained fortune and renown by eliminating bureaucratic structures inside corporations.[43] Still, in the modern world, most organized institutions rely on bureaucratic systems to manage information, process records, and administer complex systems, although the decline of paperwork and the widespread use of electronic databases is transforming the way bureaucracies function.[44]


Karl Marx[edit]

Karl Marx theorized about the role and function of bureaucracy in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, published in 1843. In Philosophy of Right, Hegel had supported the role of specialized officials in public administration, although he never used the term "bureaucracy" himself. Marx, by contrast, was opposed to bureaucracy. Marx posited that while corporate and government bureaucracy seem to operate in opposition, in actuality they mutually rely on one another to exist. He wrote that "The Corporation is civil society's attempt to become state; but the bureaucracy is the state which has really made itself into civil society."[45]

John Stuart Mill[edit]

Writing in the early 1860s, political scientist John Stuart Mill theorized that successful monarchies were essentially bureaucracies, and found evidence of their existence in Imperial China, the Russian Empire, and the regimes of Europe. Mill referred to bureaucracy as a distinct form of government, separate from representative democracy. He believed bureaucracies had certain advantages, most importantly the accumulation of experience in those who actually conduct the affairs. Nevertheless, he believed this form of governance compared poorly to representative government, as it relied on appointment rather than direct election. Mill wrote that ultimately the bureaucracy stifles the mind, and that "a bureaucracy always tends to become a pedantocracy."[46]

Max Weber[edit]

Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge

Max Weber[15]

The German sociologist Max Weber was the first to formally study bureaucracy and his works led to the popularization of this term.[47]. In his 1922 essay Bureaucracy,[1],[48] published in his magnum opus Economy and Society, Weber described many ideal-typical forms of public administration, government, and business. His ideal-typical bureaucracy, whether public or private, is characterized by:

  • hierarchical organization
  • formal lines of authority (chain of command)
  • a fixed area of activity
  • rigid division of labor
  • regular and continuous execution of assigned tasks
  • all decisions and powers specified and restricted by regulations
  • officials with expert training in their fields
  • career advancement dependent on technical qualifications
  • qualifications evaluated by organizational rules, not individuals[15][49][50]

Weber listed several preconditions for the emergence of bureaucracy, including an increase in the amount of space and population being administered, an increase in the complexity of the administrative tasks being carried out, and the existence of a monetary economy requiring a more efficient administrative system.[49] Development of communication and transportation technologies make more efficient administration possible, and democratization and rationalization of culture results in demands for equal treatment.[49]

Although he was not necessarily an admirer of bureaucracy, Weber saw bureaucratization as the most efficient and rational way of organizing human activity and therefore as the key to rational-legal authority, indispensable to the modern world.[51]. Furthermore, he saw it as the key process in the ongoing rationalization of Western society.[15][52] Weber also saw bureaucracy, however, as a threat to individual freedoms, and the ongoing bureaucratization as leading to a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalization of human life traps individuals in a soulless "iron cage" of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.[15][16] Weber's critical study of the bureaucratization of society became one of the most enduring parts of his work.[15][52] Many aspects of modern public administration are based on his work, and a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the Continental type is called "Weberian civil service".[53]

Woodrow Wilson[edit]

Writing as an academic while a professor at Bryn Mawr College, Woodrow Wilson's essay "The Study of Administration"[54] argued for bureaucracy as a professional cadre, devoid of allegiance to fleeting politics. Wilson advocated a bureaucracy that "is a part of political life only as the methods of the counting house are a part of the life of society; only as machinery is part of the manufactured product. But it is, at the same time, raised very far above the dull level of mere technical detail by the fact that through its greater principles it is directly connected with the lasting maxims of political wisdom, the permanent truths of political progress."

Wilson did not advocate a replacement of rule by the governed, he simply advised that, "Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices". This essay became the foundation for the study of public administration in America.

Ludwig von Mises[edit]

In his 1944 work Bureaucracy, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises compared bureaucratic management to profit management. Profit management, he argued, is the most effective method of organization when the services rendered may be checked by economic calculation of profit and loss. When, however, the service in question can not be subjected to economic calculation, bureaucratic management is necessary. He did not oppose universally bureaucratic management; on the contrary, he argued that bureaucracy is an indispensable method for social organization, for it is the only method by which the law can be made supreme, and is the protector of the individual against despotic arbitrariness. Using the example of the Catholic Church, he pointed out that bureaucracy is only appropriate for an organization whose code of conduct is not subject to change. He then went on to argue that complaints about bureaucratization usually refer not to the criticism of the bureaucratic methods themselves, but to "the intrusion of bureaucracy into all spheres of human life." Mises saw bureaucratic processes at work in both the private and public spheres; however, he believed that bureaucratization in the private sphere could only occur as a consequence of government interference. According to him, "What must be realized is only that the strait jacket of bureaucratic organization paralyzes the individual's initiative, while within the capitalist market society an innovator still has a chance to succeed. The former makes for stagnation and preservation of inveterate methods, the latter makes for progress and improvement."[22]

Robert K. Merton[edit]

American sociologist Robert K. Merton expanded on Weber's theories of bureaucracy in his work Social Theory and Social Structure, published in 1957. While Merton agreed with certain aspects of Weber's analysis, he also noted the dysfunctional aspects of bureaucracy, which he attributed to a "trained incapacity" resulting from "over conformity". He believed that bureaucrats are more likely to defend their own entrenched interests than to act to benefit the organization as a whole but that pride in their craft makes them resistant to changes in established routines. Merton stated that bureaucrats emphasize formality over interpersonal relationships, and have been trained to ignore the special circumstances of particular cases, causing them to come across as "arrogant" and "haughty".[23]

Elliott Jaques[edit]

In his book “A General Theory of Bureaucracy”, first published in 1976, Dr. Elliott Jaques describes the discovery of a universal and uniform underlying structure of managerial or work levels in the bureaucratic hierarchy for any type of employment systems.[55]

Elliott Jaques argues and presents evidence that for the bureaucracy to provide a valuable contribution to the open society some of the following conditions must be met:

  • Number of levels in a bureaucracy hierarchy must match the complexity level of the employment system for which the bureaucratic hierarchy is created (Elliott Jaques identified maximum 8 levels of complexity for bureaucratic hierarchies).
  • Roles within a bureaucratic hierarchy differ in the level of work complexity.
  • The level of work complexity in the roles must be matched with the level of human capability of the role holders (Elliott Jaques identified maximum 8 Levels of human capability).
  • The level of work complexity in any managerial role within a bureaucratic hierarchy must be one level higher than the level of work complexity of the subordinate roles.
  • Any managerial role in a bureaucratic hierarchy must have full managerial accountabilities and authorities (veto selection to the team, decide task types and specific task assignments, decide personal effectiveness and recognition, decide initiation of removal from the team within due process).
  • Lateral working accountabilities and authorities must be defined for all the roles in the hierarchy (7 types of lateral working accountabilities and authorities: collateral, advisory, service-getting and -giving, coordinative, monitoring, auditing, prescribing).[56][57][58]

The definition of effective bureaucratic hierarchy by Elliott Jaques is of importance not only to sociology but to social psychology, social anthropology, economics, politics, and social philosophy. They also have a practical application in business and administrative studies.   

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Bureaucracy - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  2. ^"definition of bureaucracy". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  3. ^"Bureaucracy Definition". Investopedia. 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  4. ^Philip K. Howard (2012). "To Fix America's Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It". The Atlantic. 
  5. ^Devin Dwyer (2009). "Victims of 'Health Insurance Bureaucracy' Speak Out". ABC News. 
  6. ^David Martin (2010). "Gates Criticizes Bloated Military Bureaucracy". CBS News. 
  7. ^"How to bend the rules of corporate bureaucracy". 2002-11-08. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  8. ^"Still a bureaucracy: Normal paperwork continues its flow at Vatican". Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  9. ^Weber, Max "Bureaucracy" in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Palgrave-Macmillan 2015. p. 114
  10. ^ abJ.C.N. Raadschelders (1998). Handbook of Administrative History. Transaction Publishers. p. 142. 
  11. ^Ronald N. Johnson; Gary D. Libecap (1994). The Federal Civil Service System and the Problem of Bureaucracy(PDF). University of Chicago Press. pp. 1–11. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  12. ^David Luban; Alan Strudler; David Wasserman (1992). "Moral Responsibility in the Age of Bureaucracy". Michigan Law Review. 90 (8). 
  13. ^Wren, Daniel; Bedeian, Arthur (2009). "Chapter 10:The Emergence of the Management Process and Organization Theory". The Evolution of Management Thought(PDF). Wiley. 
  14. ^Garrett; et al. (March–April 2006). "Assessing the Impact of Bureaucracy Bashing by Electoral Campaigns". Public Administration Review: 228–40. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2006.00575.x. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  15. ^ abcdefRichard Swedberg; Ola Agevall (2005). The Max Weber dictionary: key words and central concepts. Stanford University Press. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-0-8047-5095-0. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  16. ^ abGeorge Ritzer, Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, Pine Forge Press, 2004; ISBN 0-7619-8819-X, ISBN 076198819X&id=DznT_TbfKzMC&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=rationalization+%22iron+cage%22+%22polar+night+of+icy+darkness%22&sig=T4GVWJHDLYKbPVBg7lXN5KJFSb4 Google Print, p. 55
  17. ^ ab"Bureaucracy". Merriam-Webster Dictionary (definition). Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  18. ^Riggs, Fred W (1979), "Introduction : Évolution sémantique du terme 'bureaucratie'" [Introduction: semantic evolution of the ‘bureaucracy’ term] (PDF), Revue internationale des sciences sociales (in French), Paris: Unesco, XXX I (4) .
  19. ^Anter, Andreas. L'histoire de l'État comme histoire de la bureaucratie. Trivium, 7; 6 December 2010.
  20. ^Lady Morgan, Sydney (1818). Florence Macarthy. p. 35. Retrieved 2014-11-18. 
  21. ^ abcBeetham, David. Bureaucracy. Google. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  22. ^ abLudwig von Mises (1944). Bureaucracy. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  23. ^ abRobert K. Merton (1957). Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, IL;Free Press. pp. 195–206. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  24. ^Laurie E. Pearce (1995). "The Scribes and Scholars of Ancient Mesopotamia". In Jack M. Sasson. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Macmillan Library Reference. pp. 2265–2278. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  25. ^Ronald J. Williams (1972). "Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 92 (2). JSTOR 600648. 
  26. ^As taken from the Laterculus Veronensis or Verona List, reproduced in Barnes, New Empire, chs. 12–13 (with corrections in T.D. Barnes, "Emperors, panegyrics, prefects, provinces and palaces (284–317)", Journal of Roman Archaeology 9 (1996): pp. 539–42). See also: Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 9; Cascio, "The New State of Diocletian and Constantine" (CAH), 179; Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, pp. 24–27.
  27. ^Lactantius. "Chapter 7". On the Manner in which the Persecutors Died. 
  28. ^"Byzantine – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  29. ^Riegel, Jeffrey. "Confucius". In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 ed.). 
  30. ^McKnight, Brian E. (1983-02-15). Village and Bureaucracy in Southern Sung China. University of Chicago Press. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-0-226-56060-1. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  31. ^Niall Ferguson (2013). The Cash Nexus: Money and Politics in Modern History, 1700-2000. Penguin UK. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  32. ^"3 Public finance in China and Britain in the long eighteenth century"(PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  33. ^Linda Weiss; John Hobson (1995). States and Economic Development: A Comparative Historical Analysis. Wiley. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  34. ^ abBodde, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University. 
  35. ^Full text of the Northcote-Trevelyan ReportArchived 22 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^Walker, David (2003-07-09). "Fair game". London, UK: The Guardian. Retrieved 2003-07-09. 
  37. ^Henry Jacoby (January 1, 1973). The Bureaucratization of the World. University of California Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-520-02083-2. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  38. ^ abSchwarz (1996), p. 229
  39. ^Handbook of Administrative History - Paper - J.C.N. Raadschelders. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  40. ^Michael Voslensky (1984). Nomenklatura: The Soviet Ruling Class (1st ed.). Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-17657-0. 
  41. ^"Viewpoints: How did Margaret Thatcher change Britain?". BBC News. 13 April 2013. 
  42. ^Ronald Reagan (27 October 1964). A Time For Choosing (Speech). Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. 
  43. ^"Jack Welch's Encore". 14 June 1997. Archived from the original on 1 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  44. ^Stewart R. Clegg; Martin Harris; Harro Höpfl, eds. (2011). Managing Modernity: Beyond Bureaucracy?. Oxford University Press. 
  45. ^Karl Marx (1970). "3A". Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  46. ^John Stuart Mill (1861). "VI – Of the Infirmities and Dangers to which Representative Government is Liable". Considerations on Representative Government. Retrieved 12 October 2012.

This example Bureaucracy Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

Bureaucracy refers to an organization or a set of organizations designed to carry out a specialized set of tasks, often on a massive scale. In political science, as well as the general public discourse, the term generally refers to the characteristics and workings of government organizations, although studies on bureaucracies have borrowed generously from research on economics and business organization.

Bureaucrats are people who work in bureaucracies. Tasks that are entrusted to bureaucrats range from simple administrative ones, such as typing or photocopying, to the implementation of complex policy goals, such as reducing air pollution or maintaining national defense. Thus, the subjects of studies of bureaucracy have ranged from street-level bureaucrats, such as doctors, teachers, soldiers, and social workers, to very powerful bureaucrats, such as army generals, monetary policy regulators, and attorneys general.

While executive and legislative bodies are responsible for making policy and judicial bodies are responsible for interpreting policy, bureaucracies are generally responsible for the implementation of policy. Studies of policy implementation examine how bureaucratic decision making is influenced by policy-making preferences, as well as political, economic, and social institutions. Within political science, such studies are typically part of the subfield discipline known as public administration, although the term public management has been used as well. However, some scholars have suggested that the term public management applies more specifically to studies of how to make public agencies more efficient and market oriented.

Although bureaucracies have been endemic throughout history, the origin of their analysis in the social sciences is generally traced back to the work of German social theorist Max Weber. Weber stated in 1946 that the use of bureaucratic organizations had grown over time because of their technical superiority over any other form of organization. According to Weber, several organizational features of bureaucracies ensured their technical superiority, most notably the consistent application of rules and the placement of appointed officials with expertise within a hierarchical structure. Most modern bureaucracies contain these features, but each feature receives different emphasis, according to each country and bureaucratic culture.

The Application Of Rules

Bureaucratic organizations apply rules and deliver services efficiently because they do so according to sets of rules and without regard to the varying concerns of individual people, argued Weber. When bureaucracies begin to treat each client according to criteria other than specific rules, such as the person’s socioeconomic status, resources are wasted on determining outcomes for each client. Additionally, erratic application of the rules also diminishes the credibility of the agency itself, as people will learn over time that particular clients are favored over others. In The Politics of Bureaucracy (1995), political science scholar B. Guy Peters argues that many non-Western societies have been unable to implement a consistent interpretation of rules within public bureaucracies because clients expect to barter, to some extent, over final decisions or to use their status in society as leverage.

However, while a consistent application of the rules is generally a desired result, this does not necessarily mean that bureaucrats always will know precisely how to behave and do their job. According to James Q. Wilson in Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (1989), most government agencies have goals that they want to accomplish, but the more vague these stated goals are and the less easily they are translated into tasks, the more the behavior of bureaucrats will come to depend on other factors. For example, the collective goals of a police department might be to “protect the public” and “uphold the law,” but people will have different interpretations as to how to achieve these rather broad goals. Additionally, these goals do not necessarily dictate how a police officer should deal with, for example, a belligerent panhandler on the street. Thus, the particular circumstances will be important as the officer attempts to bring the situation under control. Herbert Simon, in his 1947 book Administrative Behavior, argued that the uncertainty of such situations is precisely what causes bureaucrats to follow rules and routines. According to Simon, because policy outcomes arising out of bureaucratic action are often difficult to determine or observe, structured and organized behavior helps to reduce uncertainty and preserve stability within the organization.

Wilson also argues that when agency goals are unclear, behavior may come to depend on the professional training of the bureaucrats in question. In antitrust or competition law, economists tend to favor breaking up concentrations of market power when they are economically inefficient, whereas attorneys are more likely to favor such breakups when the law has been broken. Finally, when an agency has multiple constituencies with competing interests, bureaucrats may feel pulled in different directions. For example, an agency charged with regulating air pollution may have to weigh the benefits of clean air against the potential costs to business of pollution abatement. Dissatisfaction with agency actions may lead certain constituents to seek formal rule changes from the legislature overseeing the agency, in turn, sending conflicting signals to the bureaucrats themselves.

Several examples exist of administrative cultures that strongly emphasize an adherence to written laws and rules. Such systems have been characterized as following the Hegelian civil service, or Rechtsstaat model, a model that requires senior civil servants to be trained in law. Countries with such systems, such as France, Germany, and Italy, accord civil servants a high level of respect, and future civil servants are trained in administrative law in prestigious institutions, such as France’s École Nationale d’Administration. Government scholar Christopher Hood has referred to civil servants in such systems as trustees of the government, acting in an autonomous fashion (2002). However, in contrast to the Weberian ideal of impartial expertise, French civil servants can be highly political, and many French politicians are former civil servants. Similarly, in Germany and Italy a lack of impartiality among civil servants may clash with the need to follow rules closely.

The Rechtsstaat model of civil service has been contrasted with the public interest model found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In these countries, there is not the same emphasis on administrative law as in Rechtsstaat countries, and consequently, there is less adherence to the notion of rigidly following rules. According to Hood, public employees act more as “battle troops” to carry out the political will of the political incumbent. Despite this characterization, the degree to which the civil service is politicized varies considerably across these countries. For example, British civil servants have traditionally been considered to be neutral, working for the incumbent government, whereas in the United States, political appointees come and go with each presidency, and often are added or subtracted from particular agencies as presidents see fit.

Specialization And Expertise

Weber observed that bureaucracies were made more efficient by the selection of people with technical expertise in the organization. This expertise enables bureaucrats to perform their tasks in a specialized fashion and to apply strict criteria to their decision-making processes. In addition to his observations, Weber also argued that bureaucratic organizations should recruit and select personnel based on merit and expertise in order to ensure an independent and consistent application of bureaucratic rules. Once granted some autonomy in action as well, bureaucrats could use their specialized knowledge, free from political interference. As Murray Horn argues in The Political Economy of Public Administration: Institutional Choice in the Public Sector (1995), legislatures often “tie their hands” by limiting their ability to interfere with the inner workings of bureaucracies, thus enhancing the credibility of both the politicians and the bureaucrats. Fabrizio Gilardi (2002) demonstrates that many western European nations created independent regulatory agencies with the purpose of overseeing newly privatized energy and telecommunication companies.

Weber’s argument that bureaucrats should be selected according to merit has been echoed by other scholars, but historically, patronage concerns have often trumped merit concerns. In the United States in the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson implemented what became known as the spoils system, whereby loyal party workers were given high-ranking government jobs on a rotating basis. The system was created to eliminate what Jackson saw as a pattern of wealthy elites receiving the majority of federal appointments. This system of spoils or patronage enabled average party workers to obtain government jobs. While Weber’s ideal bureaucrat held a fixed term so that employment could not be arbitrarily terminated by political executives, administration turnover in the spoils system meant wholesale personnel changes across bureaucratic agencies, as party workers were rewarded for their loyalty with government jobs. Office holders were generally accountable to the politicians they helped elect, but populists, progressives, and urban reformers viewed the spoils system as a corrupt method of giving plum jobs to unqualified representatives of special interests.

Along with this negative perception of the spoils system, several events in the late nineteenth century resulted in the slow conversion of the American federal bureaucracy to a merit-based system from a patronage system. First, Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883, which required that federal jobs gradually come to be filled according to merit and qualification. Second, in 1887, political science scholar and future president Woodrow Wilson claimed in “The Study of Administration,” that it should be the job of American administrators to neutrally and faithfully implement the policy directives of politicians. Wilson’s article supported the idea that bureaucrats could work free of political influence and that administration could be separated from politics. The U.S. Congress had Wilson’s ideas in mind when it passed the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and established the Interstate Commerce Commission with the purported aim of independently regulating the nation’s railroads. However, depleted resources, vague statutory goals, and competing constituent influence all indicated how difficult it could be to separate politics from administration in bureaucratic policy making.

Although the complete separation of policy implementation or administration from politics has been an elusive, if not an impossible, goal to achieve, policy makers and scholars agree that there are some areas of policy making, such as macroeconomic monetary policy, in which bureaucratic independence from politicians is a concern of paramount importance. Conventional wisdom suggests that if politicians had direct control over the money supply and interest rates, they would print more money to finance their projects and would lower interest rates to engineer economic booms. The main consequence of both activities would of course be soaring inflation, which would diminish the credibility of any political commitments toward stable monetary policy. The United States Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and the Bundesbank are just a few of the major, formally independent central banks.


Finally, according to Weber, expert bureaucrats applying a rational-legal framework had to be placed in a hierarchical setting to function properly. In a hierarchical setting, bureaucrats would work in a disciplined fashion toward common objectives set forth by the head administrators. Any other setting might result in the failure of bureaucrats to work coherently toward the same goals.

Weber’s observations caused other scholars to seek to explain why, over the course of history, hierarchies had emerged as the most common type of organizational structure. In his landmark 1937 article “The Nature of the Firm,” British economist Ronald Coase posited that, for private firms, hierarchy was efficient because it limited the transaction costs that business entrepreneurs would have to incur otherwise. In the absence of a hierarchy, the business entrepreneur must negotiate contracts with others to purchase input products and labor. If extensive bargaining must take place to negotiate each contract, time and resources are wasted in the process.

A hierarchical structure eliminates the need for costly bargaining by setting rules and, in the words of political scientist Terry Moe in his 1984 article “The New Economics of Organization,” “substitutes authority relations for market relations.

Although hierarchies serve to promote efficiency by reducing transaction costs, they also introduce into public and private organizations a new range of organizational dilemmas, known broadly as principal-agent problems. Moe states that

the principal-agent model is an analytic expression of the agency relationship, in which one party, the principal, considers entering into a contractual agreement with another, the agent, in the expectation that the agent will subsequently choose actions that produce outcomes desired by the principal (756).

However, agents have an incentive to misrepresent their true skills, and the manager may find it difficult to select the best candidate. This is a problem of asymmetric information, known as adverse selection. Second, the degree to which a principal can monitor the work behavior of the hired agent varies considerably across jobs. For example, a police captain cannot monitor what uniformed officers actually do on the streets at all times, if at all. The less observable the agent’s behavior, the more that agent can shirk the obligation to the principal. Additionally, when the principal hires an agent with specialized expertise to perform a complex task, the agent can exploit that information advantage to either shirk or perform the task in any preferred manner. This problem, known as moral hazard, is also a problem of asymmetric information.

The principal-agent framework has been employed broadly throughout political science and public administration research, particularly to depict the relationships between politicians and bureaucrats. William Niskanen, applying economic principles of utility maximization to bureaucrats, argued in his 1971 work Bureaucracy and Representative Government that information asymmetries between bureaucrats and legislatures were particularly problematic because knowledgeable bureaucrats could request exorbitant budgets from legislators, who, due to their lack of expertise, do not know the true cost of performing the bureaucratic tasks. Niskanen’s work, although highly influential, was criticized by many scholars as overly broad and flawed. Patrick Dunleavy followed Niskanen by maintaining in Democracy, Bureaucracy, and Public Choice (1991) that, rather than pursuing budget maximization, decision makers in bureaucracies follow a bureau-shaping strategy, most notably by separating the service delivery functions of the agency—or line agency functions—from the policy-making aspects of the agency. As a result, over time the agency’s core functions are more narrowly defined, and it actually faces fewer subsequent budget constraints. In turn, Dunleavy’s research was criticized by David Marsh, Martin Smith, and David Richards in their 2000 article, “Bureaucrats, Politicians, and Reform in Whitehall: Analyzing the Bureau-shaping Model.” Marsh, Smith, and Richards found that the bureau-shaping model did not explain the creation of many, highly specialized government agencies in the United Kingdom, known as the next-step agencies. The authors argue that this effective hiving off of duties into other newly created agencies did not originate among bureaucrats, but was imposed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet.

The research of Marsh, Smith, and Richards raises the question of how and why politicians attempt to control bureaucrats, a particularly salient question in a separation-of-powers system, such as the United States, where Congress, the president, and the courts vie for control over the direction of bureaucratic policy making. In The Administrative Presidency (1983) Richard Nathan emphasized how the president can influence bureaucratic outputs through the powers of appointment and reorganization; studies done by B. Dan Wood and Richard Waterman empirically demonstrate this (1994).Additionally, in a 2005 study, David Lewis found that presidents also manipulate the number of appointees and civil servants, particularly in agencies that clash with the president.

Much research also has been devoted to illustrating the U.S. Congress’s alleged ability to steer bureaucratic behavior. Congress is responsible for crafting the legislation from which agencies are born and, as a result, it has significant authority over how agencies are designed. Matthew McCubbins, Roger Noll, and Barry Weingast (aka McNollgast) have stressed the importance of this function, arguing in a 1987 article that Congress embeds particular administrative procedures into agency design in order to ensure that bureaucratic behavior does not deviate too far from congressional intent. Since their influential work was written, several scholars (e.g., David Epstein and Sharyn O’Halloran, 1996; Evan Ringquist, Jeff Worsham, and Marc Allen Eisner, 2003) have attempted to refine the work of McNollgast by showing that agency authority delegated by Congress also depends on the salience and complexity of the issue, the presence of divided government within Congress, and the ability of affected constituents to organize.

However, many scholars have focused also on the ability of American bureaucracies to be autonomous and to display greater independence of political control. In a 1976 study, Joel D. Aberbach and Bert A. Rockman found through surveys that Nixon administration bureaucrats were suspicious of his domestic policy agenda, particularly those bureaucrats that administered social regulatory programs. In Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy (1984), Francis Rourke argues that bureaucrats can develop knowledge and expertise that can then be used independently of political principals. Additionally, agencies with large or important constituencies may have enough political cover to act contrary to the wishes of the president or Congress. In The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy (2001), Daniel Carpenter also emphasizes the ability of entrepreneurial agency heads to cultivate coalitions as the key to bureaucratic autonomy.

Bureaucratic Reforms

In the latter half of the twentieth century, public management reforms were driven by high levels of government debt, but also by the conservative ideals of leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere implemented changes to the structure of civil servant contracts and to budgeting decisions. These changes also represented a desire to bring free-market principles into government—greater flexibility was sought in civil servant contracts to reward and punish bureaucrats according to their performance. Thus, for example, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom introduced programs whereby bureaucrats were hired according to performance related contracts for a variable number of years, as opposed to being appointed for life. Moreover, budgeting procedures also were transformed in order to stimulate agency performance and enhance efficiency. Budgets are increasingly drawn up according to evaluations of agency performance, and many countries have instituted auditing procedures as well to monitor how money is spent once it is allocated. Finally, many countries passed legislation, such as the Government Performance and Results Act in the United States in 1993, to allow formal evaluation of bureaucratic behavior through the use of performance indicators and measurement.

In western Europe, the regulation of business gradually shifted away from direct control of nationalized industries by the executive to the creation of independent regulatory agencies. The shift to autonomous agencies represented a decision by governments to interfere less in markets while delegating important regulatory decisions to bureaucrats with specialized expertise. In his 1996 book Regulating Europe, Giandomenico Majone documented the proliferation of independent regulatory agencies as the European Union’s emergence as a regulatory state. The creation of such agencies also represented a shift toward more market-oriented economies, as state-owned enterprises were jettisoned in favor of an arrangement whereby the new agencies oversee private utilities and energy companies. Similar changes occurred in the United States in the late 1970s, despite the long-standing prevalence there of independent regulatory agencies. Widespread deregulation in transportation and utilities sectors of business resulted in the dismantling of regulations that were considered favorable for existing large businesses, but destructive to competition and consumers.

While these elements of the new public management have been widespread throughout the industrialized world, they have been implemented to varying degrees across countries. What accounts for this variation? In Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis (2004), Christopher Pollitt and Geert Bouckaert posit that in majoritarian and centralized (unitary) governments, public sector reforms tend to be implemented most rapidly and most broadly, while in consensual and decentralized (federal) governments, such reforms move more slowly and with more limited scope. First, because everyone’s interests are represented in a consensual government, it is easier for those opposed to reforms to block their passage. Second, because power is dispersed from the federal government to regional governments in a federal system, it is more difficult for the executive in a federal system to impose nationwide reforms. Thus, majoritarian, centralized governments like New Zealand and the United Kingdom could implement far-reaching reforms. An oft-mentioned instance of such change occurred in the United Kingdom in 1986 when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher responded to policy disagreements with the Greater London Council by simply abolishing it, along with several other county councils. On the other hand, more consensual and federal systems, such as Belgium and Germany, did not experience the same level of change. Additionally, countries like Belgium, France, and Italy are characterized as having risk-averse bureaucratic cultures in which attempts to introduce performance-related civil servant contracts are fiercely resisted by bureaucrats.

Public sector reforms such as privatization, contracting out, pay for performance, and performance measurement have helped some governments realize significant savings and improve government performance, but public management scholars also emphasize that these reforms can be difficult to implement and may yield mixed results. For example, it may be difficult to develop indicators that reliably assess public sector performance, which also makes it difficult to link salary and budgets to performance. To the extent that reliable indicators can be developed, close linkage with budget or salary may give bureaucrats incentives to manipulate their numbers or ignore other important indicators. Finally, as numerous public administration scholars have noted, the procedures of implementing public policy are often concerned with values other than efficiency, such as equity or fairness.


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