Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series
Edited by Susan Rose-Ackerman and Peter L. Lindseth
Chapter 3: Testing Weber: Compensation for Public Services, Bureaucratization, and the Development of Positive Law in the United States
Nicholas Parrillo From the colonial period through much of the nineteenth century and sometimes into the twentieth, public officers in the United States frequently received their pay in the forms of fees-for-service, commissions, rewards, and other types of compensation that varied, in a direct and objective way, with the business of their offices and the way in which they exercised their powers. My larger research project aims to document and explain this lost system of compensation, as well as its gradual replacement – in different offices and jurisdictions at different times over more than a century – by the fixed salaries that have since come to be taken for granted in the public service. Essentially, I am tracing the way in which legislators, by reforming the way officers were paid, made the absence of the profit motive a defining feature of ‘government’ in the United States. This kind of transition took place in many countries. There are major historical analyses of profit-seeking government in England, though far less attention has been paid to its demise.1 And there is no modern scholarly attempt to analyze profit-seeking, or its decline, across American government. Histories of compensation in American government are widely scattered, appearing in monographs focused on a single public function (or occasionally a few related ones), with compensation often treated as an incidental matter.2 In the absence of synthetic works focused on the United States, the most familiar framework for understanding the rise of salaries is derived from Max Weber. Weber’s interpretation is...
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