The Political Economy of Bureaucracy: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Political Economy of Bureaucracy

1st Edition

By Steven O. Richardson


176 pages | 22 B/W Illus.

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The Political Economy of Bureaucracy applies Public Choice theory and a complex systems view of government institutions to analyze policy implementation as an economic process. It addresses the common and vexing question of why managing federal agencies for results is so difficult by challenging traditional assumptions of institutional design and policy analysis. Using creative methods that focus on relationships that constrain the choices of executives and managers in a political hierarchy, the author reveals control and coordination as goals that are imperfectly achieved and often conflicting with one another.

Despite decades of intense study, serious reform efforts and impressive technological advances, the U.S. government remains a typical bureaucracy that fails to meet citizens’ expectations. Clearly, policy analysis is missing something. The problem may rest with "machine" models of government. Rules, especially those governing expenditures, are assumed to be feasible and effective. Analysis of the federal government as a complex system of relationships between semi-autonomous agents helps explain the disconnect between policy and results. The solution is to roll back micro-management of ends and means; policymakers should focus on objectives and facilitate implementation by selectively relaxing constraints that prevent experimentation needed to determine the most effective methods.

This book devotes unusual attention to the interaction between executive and legislative branches of government and between political appointees and career civil servants. Most studies of government policy take existing institutional structure for granted. Different conclusions emerge from this analysis by virtue of the systems view that accepts status quo hierarchies but questions the effectiveness of the rules that govern policy implementation. This book will be of interest to postgraduates and researchers focussing on Economic Theory, Public Choice, Institutional Economics and Political Science, as well as to those working in the public sector interested in Public Administration, Public Policy, and Organizational Behavior.


"By replacing images of bureaus as machines, regardless of how well those machines might work, with images of bureaus as complex networks of relationships among interacting persons, Steve Richardson sets forth a menu of new directions for analytical examination. This imaginative and insightful treatment offers a feast to scholars interested in the political economy of bureaucracy."

Richard Wagner, George Mason University

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. The Research Question 2. Bureaucracy and Beyond 3. Methodology and the Kaleidic Hyperstructure (KH) Model 4. From Politics as Usual to Transparency, Competition and Flexibility 5. Case Study of The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 6. Lessons for Institutional Change

About the Author

Steve Richardson is a Program Specialist in the Department of Labor’s Center for Program Planning and Results, USA. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University.

About the Series

Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy

In recent years, there has been widespread criticism of mainstream economics. This has taken many forms, from methodological critiques of its excessive formalism, to concern about its failure to connect with many of the most pressing social issues. This series provides a forum for research which is developing alternative forms of economic analysis. Reclaiming the traditional 'political economy' title, it refrains from emphasising any single school of thought, but instead attempts to foster greater diversity within economics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / General
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / Theory
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Government & Business
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Legislative Branch
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Comparative
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Economic Policy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / General