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Does bureaucracy work in the public interest?

1. Introduction

The paper generates insights about democracy's inherent legitimacy, the role of legitimacy in institutional change, and the ability of e-government to build citizen trust and confidence in government. The mainstay of the paper is formed by an analysis of the relationship between the failure of bureaucratic systems in delivering public services, the role of bureaucratic organization as a mechanism for enforcing fundamental democratic values, and the institutional and bureaucratic mechanisms that define the procedures and the practices that govern PA.

2. The Role of State Bureaucratic Performance for Economic Growth and Development

As Styhre explains, bureaucracy may play the role of the yardstick against which new organization forms are compared and evaluated: the ontology of a bureaucracy is based on solid and enclosed entities. Styhre observes that the bureaucratic organization form may serve a society dependent on coordination and infrastructure with a range of services (bureaucracy is an important organizational form in modern society). Styhre insists that the metaphor of a biological organism is an adequate image of a bureaucracy, and that bureaucratic firms are poor performers in terms of innovation work. "Taken together, bureaucracy becomes cast as what is either failing to institute mechanisms enabling continuous improvement and adaptation to external changes, or as what is representing supposedly past virtues and social formations. Therefore, bureaucracy is portrayed as a supplement, as what is always already different and less accomplished than other forms of organization." (1) Nee and Opper explain why bureaucratic quality strengthens the state's effectiveness in establishing an institutional environment favorable to the development of modern corporations, and examine the association between state bureaucratic performance and corporate development. Nee and Opper state that measuring bureaucratic quality is a highly disputable endeavor (bureaucratic quality is not a truly exogenous variable but is determined by some underlying determinants, whereas high bureaucratic quality provides fertile grounds for globally competitive firms), the quality of bureaucratic output and performance helps to contain agency costs and supports financial market development, and bureaucratic quality provides shareholders with the necessary institutional security enabling arm's length finance of the modern corporation (arm's length finance needs a well-functioning bureaucracy characterized by predicable, calculable and methodical performance). As Nee and Opper put it, the endogenous capacity of rational-legal bureaucracy for predictable, calculable and methodical public administration enables the development of modern corporations and financial markets: methodical and predictable bureaucratic performance in support of markets facilitates capital accounting and calculable risk-taking, the crucial effect of bureaucratic performance lies in the support of overall financial market deepening, and lingering financial markets and lagging corporate development may reflect the poor status of overall bureaucratic quality (predictable and credible bureaucratic action, timely delivery of bureaucratic decisions, and fairness of bureaucratic decisions increase calculability, facilitating long-term corporate planning and external finance). Bureaucracy is a formal, rationally organized institutional arrangement, a bureaucrat's actions are legitimate if they occur within the framework of the formal rules governing the bureaucracy, the bureaucrat's authority is defined and limited by the formal rules of the organization, and the recruitment of bureaucrats is by appointment according to technical qualifications which are metered by formal, impersonal procedures. (3)

Trondal et al. focus attention towards European administrative centre formation within contemporary international bureaucracies, assessing
  European administrative centre formation by the extent to which
  civil servants of international bureaucracies are guided by a
  behavioral logic of hierarchy. This logic suggests that
  international civil servants upgrade common agendas, coordinate
  actions of sub-units, abide to steering signals from 'above',
  downplay interservice conflicts and turf-wars, reduce sub-unit
  allegiances, and emphasize the concerns and considerations of the
  executive centre. By contrast, portfolio autonomy is measured by
  the extent to which officials activate a behavioral logic of
  portfolio. This logic safeguards informed decisions and due
  administrative practices, emphasizes divergent agendas, coordinate
  actions inside sub-units rather than across them, emphasize signals,
  concerns and considerations of their sub-unit, and pay loyalty
  primarily towards the sub-unit.4

Trondal et al. posit that these logics are proposed as an enduring variable of international bureaucracy: the logic of hierarchy is based on a relationship of domination and subordination ("the justifications for bureaucratic behavior are vested in an idea that public sector organizations are instruments in the pursuit of political goals and that the accountability of bureaucratic organizations is vertical vis-a-vis the executive centre" (5)), whereas the portfolio logic claims that bureaucratic organizations and their incumbents are guided by administrative rules and routines codified in their assigned portfolios. Trondal et al. argue that the behavioral logics of international civil servants are mediated by the organizational structure of international bureaucracies: redirecting the behavioral logics inside international bureaucracies is sensitive to the basic organizational architecture underneath, variation in the logic of hierarchy among international civil servants reflects variation in administrative capacity at the executive centre of international bureaucracies, organizational compatibility may strengthen the capacity for executive centers to penetrate bureaucratic sub-units, whereas administrative centre formation has an ambition to centralize executive powers within government organizations, and the concentration of power resources around executive leaders. "Building administrative capacity at the executive centre - such as in the Commission GS - may reorient patterns of contact among incumbents, alter actors' identities and role perceptions, shift patterns of cooperation and conflict between bureaucratic sub-units, and ultimately redistribute power capacities within bureaucratic organisations." (6)

3. The Role of Bureaucratic Organization as a Mechanism for Enforcing Fundamental Democratic Values

Gilley points out that legitimacy has instrumental benefits that suffuse many aspects of political life. Legitimacy is at the center of a mutually conditioning relationship between citizens and the state (not all citizen compliance can be explained by legitimacy): it suffuses every aspect of the political world, influences outcomes through complex causal forms, and serves the functional need for social cooperation. Legitimacy opens the way for disagreement that does not threaten the state, allowing citizens to be critical without being uncooperative: legitimacy is a form of ideas or culture that is convincing and authoritative, has limitations as an explanation of the dynamics of state failure, and should lead to greater peace and reconciliation in society. Legitimacy best explains citizen compliance with state policies, whereas illegitimacy is the best explanation of citizen unwillingness to obey. Gilley contends that states both generate legitimacy and are shaped by it, state performance depends critically on legitimacy and is its major source, whereas certain types of state structure are most conducive to the generation of legitimacy: the endogenous relationship of legitimacy and the state is centered on the legitimating performance of the state.

Based on the considerations above, it is not difficult to show that citizens strive to engage the state as moral agents, and a legitimate state is less dominating over its citizens. Gilley insists that we should not equate legitimacy with stability, as states may remain stable through repression and payoffs, the state may shape legitimacy, both in the management of pluralism and in the creation of legitimacy norms, and states and other structures need to be integrated into the legitimacy paradigm. The relationship between legitimacy and conflict can be understood only in the context of a specific situation, whereas legitimacy is the preferred explanation for the persistence or failure of political orders, and important to system stability in times of social change. "States and their institutions are the infrastructure for generating the performance on which legitimacy is based. Maintaining legitimacy means shifting institutions in order to generate valued performance." (7) Gilley asserts that both legitimacy and structures may operate autonomously or act interdependently, legitimacy failures lead to a questioning of the political order, whereas legitimacy is indispensable for explaining the key pressures for institutional change (the concept of legitimacy is a powerful explanation of many political phenomena). Democracy both helps create legitimacy and enhances the quality of feedback from legitimacy to state strength (the legitimation cycle matters, not particular institutional features). Democracy is a procedural way to resolve political conflict, whereas legitimacy may reduce conflict in some instances (democracy and governance matter to conflict because of what they do).

According to this discussion, democracies are highly liberalized regimes, and the force of legitimacy should be relevant to their institutional changes. As legitimacy deteriorates, a democratic state loses its ability to withstand antidemocratic assaults, and contributes to strengthening those assaults. Gilley reasons that the eruption of antidemocratic social values suggests a weak adherence to a universally valued form of government (the contemporary world is characterized by a remarkable convergence on shared legitimacy norms). "Democracy plays both a structural and an ideational role. Legitimacy plays its expected ideational role, but because of its majoritarian character cannot capture the minority concerns that democracy does." (8)

4. The Ability of E-government to Build Citizen Trust and Confidence in Government

Cordella emphasizes that the bureaucratic organization is a fundamental guarantor of equal and impartial action by PA, less bureaucracy in PA is a positive result to improve the quality of the government's actions, and the e-bureaucratic form is an e-government policy that may improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the action of the PA, reinforcing the democratic values of equality and impartiality in the interaction of the State with citizens. Cordella says the e-bureaucratic form may be a fine e-government strategy in many government agencies in the developed and developing economies, and is a specific e-government solution that takes advantages of ICTs as mean of coordination, and helps to enforce the political values of equality and impartiality.

What is important here is that ICTs may be solutions to support the enforcement of the values of equality and impartiality brought about by bureaucratic organization, are tools to transform bureaucracies in marketoriented organizations, and to support bureaucratic administration functions, and must be conceived as an instrument to sustain existing bureaucratic organization forms. Cordella explains that bureaucratic organizations are not necessarily the main reason for the administrative and service crises in public sector experiences, may be important for the efficient operation of democratic States, and serve to enforce the democratic values of equality and impartiality of State actions. Bureaucracy is important for retaining democratic values, as a bureaucratic setting is the foundation upon which many public sectors are organized.
  Fundamental public services can only be provided through the
  bureaucratic form because it is the organization form itself, with
  its procedural-based structure that provides a large part of the
  values expressed in those services. [...] Where bureaucracies have
  failed to deliver services effectively it is because they have not
  been able to handle the increasing amount of information and
  coordination activities that are nowadays needed to provide
  traditional public services. [...] The limits to bureaucratic
  handling of complex and interdependent tasks have to be considered
  when e-government policies are designed and implemented. (9)

Morgeson et al. test a model of citizen experience with government, examining the structure of the e-government-citizen trust relationship, and hypothesizing that recent Internet usage for purposes besides e-government, such as purchasing goods and services online, will increase the likelihood that a citizen will adopt e-government: citizens' prior expectations will be determined by individual user characteristics. Morgeson et al. position both e-government and expectations as determinants of satisfaction, and propose a positive relationship between e-government and satisfaction. E-government usage is positively and significantly related to confidence in an agency, whereas e-government provides citizens with an image of how good government service could be through e-government. "Although e-government appears to help boost citizen confidence in the future performance of the particular agency interacted with, it does not lead to greater satisfaction with an agency interaction nor does it drive greater trust in federal government overall." (10)

5. Conclusions

I seek to contribute to a wider understanding of contextual and cultural influences on the state's capacity to improve standards of bureaucratic quality, the effect of bureaucratic quality on financial market development, and the linkage between bureaucratic quality and financial market development. This paper seeks to fill a gap in the current literature by examining legitimacydriven processes of institutional change, the establishment of e-bureaucratic forms of government as a primary goal for e-government polices, and the values that are enforced by bureaucratic structures.


(1.) Styhre, Alexander (2007), The Innovative Bureaucracy: Bureaucracy in an Age of Fluidity. New York: Routledge, 5.

(3.) Nee, Victor, and Sonja Opper (2009), "Bureaucracy and Financial Markets," Kyklos 62: 293-315.

(4.) Trondala, Jarle, Martin Marcussenb, Torbjorn Larssonc, and Frode Veggeland (2012), "European Administrative Centre Formation. Lessons from International Bureaucracies," Comparative European Politics 10(1): 87.

(5.) Ibid., 90.

(6.) Ibid., 106.

(7.) Gilley, Bruce (2009), The Right to Rule: How States Win and Lose Legitimacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 142.

(8.) Ibid., 199.

(9.) Cordella, Antonio (2007), "E-government: Towards the E-bureaucratic Form?"

Journal of Information Technology 22: 271, 273.

(10.) Morgeson III, Forrest V., David Van Amburg, and Sunil Mithas (2011), "Misplaced Trust? Exploring the Structure of the E-Government-Citizen Trust Relationship," Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory 21(2): 258.


This research was supported by the project Post-Doctoral Studies in Economics: Training Program for Elite Researchers - SPODE, contract no. POSDRU/89/1.5/S/61755, funded by the European Social Fund through Human Resources Development Operational Program 2007-2013.

LUMINITA IONESCU Spiru Haret University

[c] Luminita Ionescu
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Author:Ionescu, Luminita
Publication:Economics, Management, and Financial Markets
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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