The Hidden Influence of Public Authorities
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 Here, Axelrod, director of the Public Enterprise Project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, argues that public authorities (government corporations) have grown to such an extent that they now constitute a ``shadow government'' whose activities are largely beyond electoral control. Since the Depression and the New Deal, Axelrod says, American governments--federal, state, and local--have been expected to take responsibility for providing an increasing variety of necessary services: highways, hospitals, transportation, schools, and so on. At the same time, such programs have frequently been obstructed by constitutional restrictions on government powers to raise and spend revenue, and by electoral hostility to taxes. The solution seized on by many ambitious or hard-pressed politicians, the author notes, has been to assign the provision of public services to politically independent public authorities. Financed by fees rather than taxes, their services are thus kept off government budgets. But the real price we pay, Axelrod argues, is a diminution of democracy, with public authorities often tending to elude any effective scrutiny by elected officials. In many cases, he contends, they are mismanaged and corrupt, providing little more than a convenient pork-barrel for wealthy private interests. Nevertheless, Axelrod recognizes that public authorities serve many essential needs; the issue is how to make them more accountable. An excellent final chapter contains several suggestions along these lines--but, ironically, also reveals a serious defect in the book's organization: It is only here that the emphasis shifts from the misdeeds of authorities to what turns out to be, for him, the fundamental problem--the restrictions imposed by obsolete constitutions. Indeed, the author might have looked deeper still: at a contradictory political culture that demands public services but refuses to pay for them. Clear, persuasive, and readable, though incomplete and misleadingly organized.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-471-52767-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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