Left and Right

The Public Administration State is Not Socialism

FOX News “conservatives” have a habit of referring to everything they don’t like as “socialism” (usually taken to mean any kind of government involvement in the economy, particularly if it is supposedly intended to help the disadvantaged). But the American public administration state has nothing to do with socialism, whether the historic 19th-century kind or the 20th-century totalitarian kind. The concept of the modern public administration state has its roots in the Prussian bureaucracy that was developed at the onset of modernity, and which was imported into the United States by Progressive Era intellectuals like Herbert Croly and politicians like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Historically, “socialism” was largely just a euphemism for “social reform” and included middle-class do-gooders, proponents of utopian communes, labor union organizers, and, in its more radical version, an economy based on worker, community, municipal, or cooperative ownership or control of the means of production (like libertarian socialism, guild socialism, syndicalism, or left-anarchism, broadly defined). An extremist version of classical socialism was based on the idea of a revolutionary dictatorship modeled on the French Revolution. This was the socialism of figures like Louis Blanc and, later, Lenin.

It is due to the legacy of Lenin, who was considered an extremist by his socialist contemporaries, and 20th-century Communist dictatorships that “socialism” comes to be associated with totalitarian command economies like the Soviet Union, Maoist China, or National Socialist German. Socialism also has nothing to do with the welfare state idea that is now prevalent in developed countries. The welfare state was initially implemented by figures like Otto von Bismarck as a means of steering workers away from socialism not toward it. Over time, right-wing plutocratic interests have come to denounce anything that is inconsistent with their class interests as “socialism” which is merely an effort to associate all opposition to plutocracy with Marxist or fascist totalitarianism.

The Wikipedia entry on public administration provides a good overview of the background of the modern public administration state. Contrast this with Larry Gambone’s overview of classical socialism.

Public Administration

Public administration is the implementation of government policy and also an academic discipline that studies this implementation and prepares civil employees for working in the public service.[1] As a “field of inquiry with a diverse scope” whose fundamental goal is to “advance management and policies so that government can function”.[2] Some of the various definitions which have been offered for the term are: “the management of public programs”;[3] the “translation of politics into the reality that citizens see every day”;[4] and “the study of government decision making, the analysis of the policies themselves, the various inputs that have produced them, and the inputs necessary to produce alternative policies.”[5]

Public administration is “centrally concerned with the organization of government policies and programs as well as the behavior of officials (usually non-elected) formally responsible for their conduct”.[6] Many non-elected public employees can be considered to be public administrators, including heads of city, county, regional, state and federal departments such as municipal budget directors, human resources (HR) administrators, city managers, census managers, state mental health directors, and cabinet secretaries.[4] Public administrators are public employees working in public departments and agencies, at all levels of government.

In the United States, civil employees and academics such as Woodrow Wilson promoted civil service reform in the 1880s, moving public administration into academia.[7] However, “until the mid-20th century and the dissemination of the German sociologist Max Weber‘s theory of bureaucracy” there was not “much interest in a theory of public administration”.[8] The field is multidisciplinary in character; one of the various proposals for public administration’s sub-fields sets out six pillars, including human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis, statistics, budgeting, and ethics


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