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Comparative Administration: Making PA Theory Useful and Understandable, Part 1

Werlin is the winner of the 2010 Fred Riggs Award given by ASPA’s Section on International and Comparative Administration. This article was written in response to that award. This is part one of two.

Herbert H. Werlin

I have struggled over many years to link public administration to political science, economic development, and comparative politics so that PA literature could be more useful and understandable to practitioners and students. My development of Political Elasticity (PE) theory (here explained), emerged from my work with Dwight Waldo and Sheldon Wolin (the great political philosophy professor) during my Berkeley graduate school days in the early 1960s. As explained in my 2001 Public Administration Quarterly “Essay in Memory of Dwight Waldo,” I wandered into Waldo’s administrative theory seminar, having taught public administration at Texas Tech, using Leonard White’s 1955 textbook, Introduction to the Study of Public Administration. While I found the seminar interesting, I did not know how to use what I was learning for African studies, which was my reason for being at Berkeley. Moreover, questions raised by Waldo and Wolin having to do with the need to reconcile politics and administration, bureaucracy and democracy, scientific management and humanistic management, among others, intensified my confusion. As I explain in my 2001 essay, various experiences facilitated my efforts to deal with these questions:

l. MY STUDY OF THE NAIROBI CITY COUNCIL. For my Ph.D. dissertation under Carl Rosberg (completed in l966 and published in l974), I did a study of the Nairobi City Council as it shifted from British colonial rule to African control. The new Council members wanted jobs, contracts, and favors to be given to friends, tribal members, and supporters, regardless of their qualifications. As such, they could not be withdrawn without antagonizing these people. This caused organizational relationships to break down. Officials no longer respected oneanother for their competence, with the result that authority within the bureaucracy and between the Central Government and the City Council could not delegated with any expectation of implementation. I described this situation as “inelasticity of control.” In other words, the “rubber band” characteristics of political power, which we take for granted in an ordinary bureaucracy, were no longer functioning in any effective way.

2. MY YEARS (1977-84) AS EDITOR OF “The Urban Edge” (A World Bank newsletter). When this job ended, I went back to the academic world and to my work on administrative theory. Fortunately, I met Waldo, who had then retired to Virginia, mentioning that I had gathered enough material from my World Bank experience to write an interesting book He suggested that I take a look at “contingency theory” the theory that there is “no best way” and that “what works, works.” This was a source of confusion for World Bank staff who were expected to find and promote “best practices.”

I eventually decided that we needed a theory of leadership which could account for the fact that, for every success story in PA, there seems to be an equal and opposite failure story, and that different evaluations of the same approach (be it public housing or school vouchers or whatever) are irreconcilable. I therefore came to the conclusion that governance (the capacity “to guide or steer” in its original Latin meaning) should be analyzed on the basis of two dimensions: “political hardware” (referring to rules, procedures, technology, organizational arrangements, methods, etc.) and “political software” (referring to the quality of relationships between leaders and followers essential for the effectiveness of political hardware), including qualified personnel, acceptable goals, two-way flows of communication, motivation, competition, independent spheres of authority, and conflict-resolution procedures.

The importance of political software can be seen in a comparison of efforts by South Korea and Ghana to introduce a Value Added Tax (VAT). When South Korea did so in l977, the government took two years to prepare for its implementation. Nationwide tryout exercises were carried out on three separate occasions before the changeover to the VAT. Along with a consultation and information program, it expanded and retrained its tax administrative staff. Ghana, on the other hand, carelessly introduced a high VAT (set at 17 percent of the price of many commodities and services) in February, l995, without proper consultation with business and community groups. It led to the largest protest demonstrations during the Rawlings administration and eventual withdrawal.

Herbert Werlin is a retired University of Maryland professor and was for many years a researcher, writer, and editor for the World Bank. He is the author of a 1998/2001 (with a 2010 addendum) University Press of American book, The Mysteries of Development: Studies Using Political Elasticity Theory. He is the winner of the 2010 Fred Riggs Award given by ASPA’s Section on International and Comparative Administration. Email: [email protected].

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