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Edited by William F. Shughart II and Laura Razzolini
Chapter 12: Rational choice theories of bureaucratic control and performance
12 Rational choice theories of bureaucratic control and performance 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...
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