Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Power, Legitimacy and Performance

Edited by B. Guy Peters, Patrick von Maravić and Eckhard Schröter

What is the relationship between the composition of the public sector workforce and the nature of the society it serves? Taking a comparative and analytical perspective, the authoritative and accessible chapters illustrate the salience of representative politics in diverse societies. The book explores the wide variety of practice based on different political systems, administrative structures, and cultural settings, and discusses topical issues of public bureaucracies worldwide.

Chapter 6: Political patronage, machine politics and ethnic representativeness in the public sector

B. Guy Peters

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics, public policy


Whether being discussed by scholars or by practitioners in Western countries, the prevailing assumption about managing personnel in the public sector is that public administration should be politically neutral. The Weberian ideal of the career public servant recruited on merit and capable of acting sine irae ac studio with both superiors and clients pervades discussions of public bureaucracies. This model is assumed to produce the most capable public servants and also to provide for the greatest possible equality in the recruitment, promotion, and retention of public servants. Further, the equality implied in the merit system can be justified in democratic terms, with all citizens having equal opportunity for public employment. While the model of political neutrality and merit recruitment has a powerful normative standing, we should not assume that it is necessarily the best means of attaining all the goals of personnel management in the public sector. In particular, we should not assume that merit-based recruitment will necessarily produce the most representative public bureaucracy. The problems with merit-based recruitment are especially evident when there are significant numbers of minority group members who are new to a country or who may have been excluded from government for other reasons, e.g. caste or racial discrimination. Further, it is not just overt discrimination in the public sector that may influence representativeness but also the more subtle influences of the educational system and the examination systems.

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