Down from Bureaucracy

Down from Bureaucracy: The Ambiguity of Privatization and Empowerment

Joel F. Handler
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Down from Bureaucracy
    Book Description:

    Throughout the world, politicians are dismantling state enterprises and heaping praise on private markets, while in the United States a new rhetoric of "citizen empowerment" links a widespread distrust of government to decentralization and privatization. Here Joel Handler asks whether this restructuring of authority really allows ordinary citizens to take more control of the things that matter in their roles as parents and children, teachers and students, tenants and owners, producers and consumers. Looking at citizens as stakeholders in the modern social welfare state created by the New Deal, he traces the surprising ideological shifts of empowerment from its beginning as a cornerstone of the war on poverty in the 1960s to its central place in conservative market-based voucher schemes for school reform in the 1990s.

    Handler shows that in the past the gains from decentralization have proved to be more symbol than substance: some disadvantaged members of society will find new opportunities in the changes of the 1990s, but others will simply experience powerlessness under another name. He carefully distinguishes "empowerment by invitation" (in special education, worker safety, home health care, public housing tenancy, and neighborhood organizations) from the "empowerment by conflict" exemplified by the radical decentralization of the Chicago public schools. What emerges is a map of the major pitfalls and possible successes in the current journey away from a discredited regulatory state.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2198-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-16)

    It is by now commonplace to note that “decentralization” and “privatization” are worldwide movements. Not only in Western Europe and the United States, but also in the Third World, governments are trying to lessen their presence (at least in the economy), unload state enterprises, and rely more on private markets. At least in the Western democracies, common themes are reducing the role of national government, lowering public spending, reducing the direct provision of services, and intervening less in the lives of citizens. In each society, however, these ideas have different meanings and policies and raise different issues. In the United...

  5. Part I: The Organization of the Welfare State:: Public and Private
      (pp. 19-40)

      Decentralization is theallocation of authority. In the public sector, decentralization is an aspect of federalism—the continuous, dynamic process of adjusting relations between federal, state, and local government, as well as special-purpose governments, such as school districts, port authorities, sanitation districts, and so forth. Decentralization also involves internalbureaucraticrelations, or the allocation of responsibility between various levels or units of organizations. Decentralization can also meanprivatization—the allocation of authority between government and the private sector (both profit and not-for-profit). The three dimensions, of course, are not separate. One of our major points is that “governments,” while many...

      (pp. 41-77)

      In this chapter, we consider some major examples of decentralization. The examples show the importance of local administration, despite initiatives from higher levels of government. The first example is welfare. The moral conflicts involved in aiding the poor are most keenly felt at the local level in the communities. For this reason, the most significant actors in welfare policy have always been local officials. During the last thirty years, there have been frequent demands for the federal government to “do something” about the “welfare crisis.” Despite frequent federal legislation, in fact the response has been re-delegation to the local level...

    • Chapter 4 PRIVATIZATION
      (pp. 78-112)

      As noted in chapter 1, privatization means different things and takes different forms. If viewed as the sharing or delegating of authority to non-governmental agents, then privatization, both formally and informally, is a common practice in both civil and criminal regulatory regimes. Many social and regulatory programs start with public subsidization of private organizations.¹ At the other end of the spectrum, privatization means the public sale of assets—government withdrawing, or “load shedding.” Although a favorite of the conservatives, this form of privatization has never really amounted to much in the United States.²

      Privatization here will refer primarily to contracting,...

  6. Part II: The View from Below:: Empowerment by Invitation, Empowerment through Conflict
      (pp. 115-132)

      Empowerment is the ability to control one’s environment. Here, the environment is the citizen-bureaucratic or -regulatory relationship. In practice, relationships between agencies and people are matters of degree; they can range from completely coercive—for example, police subduing a suspect—to citizens dominating the agency—for example, regulatory agencies being captured by special interests. There is a full range of bargaining, which may be more or less voluntary. In most human service relationships—welfare, health, mental health, education, and so forth—the agency is in the dominant position. It may not be completely dominant, but it clearly has the upper...

      (pp. 133-168)

      In this chapter, we examine cooperative or bargaining relationships in regulatory settings. Cooperation in regulatory settings is ubiquitous. Why is this empowerment? And why “by invitation?” In the examples that we are concerned with, there are large differences in the power of the parties. If the weaker parties are to engage in genuine participation, they have to be empowered. The contrast is with Hawkins’s study of bargaining in water pollution regulation, discussed in chapter 3. There, the regulated companies made a cost-benefit determination to bargain rather than assume an adversarial position. The companies had both knowledge and material resources to...

      (pp. 169-215)

      Nationwide, we are once again in the throes of school reform. School reform is both cyclical and contradictory. This is no surprise. The education and socialization of the citizenry is one of our most important social functions. Consequently, what schools do or should or should not be doing has always been highly contested. The battles in education reflect conflicts over who we are, what we aspire to be, and how to accomplish those goals. Public schools incorporate powerful, but often competing, legitimating symbols.¹ Thus, school reform is often less about the core technology of schooling—teaching and learning—than contests...

    • Chapter 8 CONCLUSIONS
      (pp. 216-242)

      Decentralization, deregulation, and privatization continue to enjoy increasing favor in American politics. As discussed in the introduction, whether viewed as the reallocation of authority between state and market or state and lower units of government, these ideas resonate along different ideological dimensions. For conservatives, decentralization, deregulation, and privatization have traditionally meant (1) reducing the public sector in favor of the private sector; (2) reducing the regulatory burden on the private sector; and (3) bringing those government functions that remained public closer to the people. Gains would be efficiency, effectiveness, and citizen freedoms traditionally associated with liberal capitalism and local democracy....

    (pp. 243-260)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 261-269)