Politics, Bureaucracy and Successful Governance

Inaugural lecture by K.J. Meier: “One of the major questions, perhaps the major question, in the field of public administration is how to reconcile the need for bureaucracy with the democratic process. Bureaucracies after all are not seen as democratic institutions and operate based on hierarchy and expertise rather than popular will (see Mosher 1968). I take a distinctly minority view in the field, seeing bureaucracy not so much as a threat to democracy in existing mature democracies but as a necessary precondition for the existence of democracy in modern society (Meier 1997).

Democracy is a system of governance with high transactions costs that seeks democratic ideals of representation, equity, and fairness with only modest, if any, concern for efficiency. Effective bureaucracies are the institutions that produce the outcomes that build public support for democracy and in a sense generate the surplus that allows democratic processes to survive and flourish. Although bureaucracies may have none of the trappings of democracy internally, their role in contributing to democratic governance means that they should also be considered democratic institutions. Scholars, politicians, and citizens need to be concerned about preserving and protecting bureaucracy just as they seek to preserve and protect our official institutions of democracy.

Within the general theme of bureaucracy and democracy, this lecture will address two major concerns – (1) the failure of politics which severs the crucial link between voters and elected officials and poses major challenges to bureaucrats seeking to administer effective programs, and (2) the subsequent need for bureaucracy to also become an institution that represents the public. Within this concern about bureaucratic representation, the lecture will address how bureaucracies can assess the needs of citizens, and more narrowly how representative bureaucracy can be and is instrumental to the bureaucracy, and finally the limits of symbolic representation within bureaucracies….(More)”.