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Comparative Administration: Making PA Theory Useful and Understandable, Part 2


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 the second article in a two-part series.

Herbert H. Werlin

(3) MY USE OF COMPARATIVE CASE STUDIES. PE theory (as explained by my recent articles) suggests that, as countries develop, their manifestation of political power takes “as elastic form” insofar as it can be delegated or decentralized in many different ways (like a rubber band) without being undermined and that (like a balloon) it can predictably affect the behavior of increasing circles of followers, participants, and the general public. It thereby becomes a form of “social energy.” In other words, as countries develop, political power becomes more persuasive and less coercive insofar as governments can integrate and alternate “soft” and “hard” forms of power. For example (as presented in my 2003 PAR article, “Poor Nations, Rich Nations: A Theory of Governance”), in Lagos, despite a large World Bank loan, officials could not “force” people to pick up garbage in an organized way because of weak political software, whereas in Tokyo (as a comparison) officials can generate enough public cooperation to allow a different type of garbage to be picked up each day of the week, everything recycled or burned for energy.

As explained in my 2003 PAR article, the justification for PE theory is simply that it is more enlightening than other theories in regard to the most interesting questions in the literature having to do with the poverty and wealth of nations:

1. Why is it that rich countries are both more centralized and more decentralized than poor countries?

2. Why is it that rich countries are more successful than poor countries in permanently changing their culture?

3. Why is it that classical democracy is more essential than liberal democracy for economic development?

4. Why is it that corruption is devastating for poor countries but not for rich countries?

5. Why is it that globalization will benefit some countries far more than others?

PE theory is subject to the criticisms that it is “untestable” and “tautological.” However, it is clear that the theory is built upon the commonsensical political software requisites mentioned earlier, each of which is also “untestable” and “tautological.” Yet, to deny them is also to deny commonsense, which seems to be perplexing, to say the least. For example, hiring qualified people cannot be used to explain the success of a business without encountering “circular reasoning.” Nevertheless, in many parts of the world, leaders are much more interested in hiring “loyalists,” rather than qualified people because they are more concerned with survival than development.

I have used “the ordinary language” approach taught at Oxford during my years there (the mid-l950s) to clarify such words as politics, political power, corruption, and democracy – all of which are sources of confusion in public administration, as here indicated:

Politics. If administrators see politics only as “partisanship” (the struggle for competitive advantage), they obviously want to avoid it. However, if they view it as “statesmanship” (the struggle for consensus), they may recognize it as essential for effective administration and the transformation of political power into “social energy.”

Democracy. Whereas liberal democracy has to do with partisanship (elections, multi-party systems, and majority rule), classical democracy refers to the Athenian conception of community or polis: consensus-building. Without statesmanship (including a legitimate legal system), elections can be meaningless or counterproductive.

Corruption Primary corruption is my term for excessive partisanship or greed; secondary corruption indicates a governmental inability to control or mitigate this situation. As an analogy, we might think of basketball fouling under two situations: one in which there is normal refereeing, so that fouling is meaningful, punishable, and tolerable; the other in which refereeing is corrupt, causing fouling to be pervasive, essential, and destigmatized. While primary corruption does not necessarily prevent development, secondary corruption has a corrosive effect on the requirements for development. This is because secondary corruption stems from as well as contributes to weak political software. In so doing, it causes and intensifies political inelasticity.

Decentralization. I argue that in most wealthy countries, centralization and decentralization tend to merge. This is so because of the high quality of political software that exists in these countries. In poor countries, on the other hand, local governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations are denied much authority or assistance. They are also inadequately controlled, so that forms of both centralization and decentralization appear to be ineffective.

To conclude, I believe that public administration is a neglected field in journalism and the social sciences; that my theory, if taken seriously, will promote a better understanding of the poverty and wealth of nations; and that a younger generation of scholars might be able to make my theory more useful in ways that I cannot anticipate.

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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One Response to Comparative Administration: Making PA Theory Useful and Understandable, Part 2

  1. Dan Stanley Reply

    August 31, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    How is this related to economic elasticity?

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