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The Elgar Companion to Public Choice

The Elgar Companion to Public Choice

Elgar original reference

Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini

This authoritative and encyclopaedic reference work provides a thorough account of the public choice approach to economics and politics. The Companion breaks new ground by joining together the most important issues in the field in a single comprehensive volume. It contains state-of-the-art discussions of both old and contemporary problems, including new work by the founding fathers as well as contributions by a new generation of younger scholars.  

Chapter 12: Rational choice theories of bureaucratic control and performance

Kelly H. Chang, Rui J.P. de Figueiredo Jr and Barry R. Weingast

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice


Kelly H. Chang, Rui J.P. de Figueiredo, Jr and Barry R. Weingast 1 Introduction: the Wilson challenge Perhaps the most salient feature of government agencies is their inherent complexity. As with most organizations, the behavior of public bureaucracies is difficult to unpack. The complexity of bureaucracy calls into question the efforts by political scientists to develop deductive theories of bureaucratic performance and behavior. If a complex set of interactions among a plethora of variables characterizes government agencies, then the rational choice theorist’s intention to predict agency behavior with (simple) models might be chimerical. Perhaps the most forceful statement of this view has been advanced by James Q. Wilson in Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (1989). In his criticisms of the institutional theories of bureaucracy, Wilson points to two related failures of such theories: the ignorance of variation and complexity, and the consequent failure to recognize the importance of internal organization. In terms of the former, Wilson argues that bureaucracies vary dramatically in the nature of the tasks they perform, their interest-group environments, their political context, and their institutional constraints. These variations, he points out, lead to vastly different behavior and performance. In terms of the latter, Wilson points to a number of features of the internal organization of agencies which vary: organizational cultures, missions, incentives of agents at different levels of hierarchy, and reporting relationships and task assignments all determine what kind of outputs an agency will produce. In an earlier work, Wilson (1980,...

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