International Handbook of Public Management Reform
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International Handbook of Public Management Reform

Edited by Shaun Goldfinch and Joe L. Wallis

This major Handbook provides a state-of-the-art study of the recent history and future development of international public management reform.
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Chapter 2: The Influence of Economic Theories of Government Failure on Public Management Reform

Brian Dollery


Brian Dollery Introduction In contrast to much previous change in public administration, NPM-inspired reform is consciously derived from contemporary discourse in the policy sciences, particularly economic theory. Furthermore, while ‘an anti-state and pro-market normative leaning and individually orientated ideas generally characterize this body of theory’, the concrete reality is that ‘these ideas are rather abstract and general and must be “translated” in order to provide a specific roadmap and driving force for a reform program and accompanying practical changes’ (Aberbach and Christensen 2003: 497). This translation process usually involves a high degree of simplification and interpretation thereby often decreasing the logical correspondence of theory with policy. It also provides ample latitude to political elites and policy-makers in different countries to transform intellectual concepts into different kinds of reformist policies and can thus partly account for the observed heterogeneity in the pattern of public sector reform across the developed world. Whereas various writers, including Peters (1996), Hood (1998) and Pollitt and Bouckaert (2004), have been able to identify coherent policy paradigms underpinning this shift in practice, each policy paradigm typically consisted of several strands or sub-policy paradigms not always entirely consistent with each other. In this chapter, I argue that if an archetypical NPM-type model can be identified, then it has two major intellectual foundations. On the one hand, what may be called ‘generic managerialism’ (Wallis and Dollery 1999) has strongly influenced the shape of NPMstyle reform models. On the other hand, from the perspective of economic theory the overarching policy...

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