A retired civil servant offers a theoretical framework for the study of public administration.
In this book, Lalor (The Story of New Ross 1207-2007, 2007) draws on both his experience working in Ireland’s civil service and his background as an academic at Trinity College, Dublin. He looks at the historical development of public service, enumerates the components of public administration, reviews the existing literature, and analyzes supply and demand for public goods. He concludes that public administration constitutes the most effective means of providing goods and services that aren’t produced by the free market, while it also contains a moral component. After making this proposal, Lalor applies it to existing discussions in the policy arena, such as the shifting boundary between policy creation and implementation, and the nature of public service in an autocratic environment. Appendices address linguistic, psychological, and postmodern evaluations of the theory. The author contends that “public policy should not be merely the outcome of the conflicts of ministers and appointed officials, there must be a unifying core which brings the purposes of public representatives and officials together.” Some readers may find this an overly rational approach to political reality. However, it does serve as an effective basis for evaluating the sector as a whole. The book’s one significant shortcoming is its nearly exclusive emphasis on the United States and English-speaking Europe. There’s no discussion of how the theory applies to China’s centuries-old system of public administration, for instance, and aside from two brief references to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former governments, there’s no attempt to demonstrate that the theory applies to civil society in non-Western environments. Despite this limitation, however, it provides a useful overview for readers who are interested in the ideas surrounding the provision of public goods.
A thoughtful, if narrowly focused, public-policy treatise.