Revisited Post: Bureaucrats and “people”

Originally posted elsewhere on June 24, 2008

Obviously, the nature of my work prevents me from getting too involved in political discussion.  I have to pick my topics carefully, for they can be interesting and poignant and avoid inappropriate argument.

An ideal opportunity arrived when I found the following quote in a post by Denis Boyles on NRO’s The Corner commenting on the recent Irish referendum rejecting the EU Constitution:

Only by luck were the Irish given a chance to do what most Europeans would love to be able to do and vote on whether they wanted more government in their lives. They voted “no” by a convincing margin and saved Europe, at least until the EUniks can figure out another way to implement a far-reaching treaty without  bothering to ask the people what they want.

Of course, they could always engage the democratic process and arrive at a useful and appealing consensus, but that would mean trusting the voters. Bureaucrats trust process, not people.

The last sentence serves as a short, simple, and effective reinforcement of the negativity often heaped upon the profession of public administration.  If a bureaucrat is lucky, they lump it in a Pareto-esque pile of vocal minority rantings.  If not, they sulk in the growing negativity and strengthen their bitterness against the public they are assigned and paid to serve.

Hopefully, we grow as professionals to use opportunities such as these to evaluate our actions and recognize that while they often only represent perception, it is easy for others to equate this cynicism with reality.  It is easy for us, without the benefit of assessment on the part of ourselves or others, to grow insular with respect to our actions and argue justification on the basis of theory.  Whether proven empirically or not, the cold comfort of statistically-based social science often conflicts with the warmth and volatility of human nature.

I often wonder, as a practicioner, if a researcher has ever considered to include variables associated with characteristics of individualism into their empiracal analysis of public policy.  How do you measure the correlation of a citizen’s beliefs of freedom, libery, and personal faith with with respect to a given policy decision and the impact of its implementation?  How do we incorporate these externalities, often the foundation of citizen support or opposition to the “greater good” proposals of bureaucrats and their elected surrogates, so we can better determine whether we really do “know better”?

The obvious answer to these questions is that we really cannot achieve these types of measures and understanding with any degree of certainty.  Perhaps it is our society’s view of history as a series of facts that prevents us from understanding the great study of human nature it can provide.  Recently hearing author David McCullough’s arguement of similar notion, and noticing that most public administrators I encounter originate out of the disciplines of social science rather than humanities does lead me to think that the ongoing pursuit of improving public policy analysis should include increasing our understanding our appreciation of the individual element.

Looking closely, I do not think that Boyles meant “people” in the plural group sense.  He should have said “person” instead to effectively articulate his arguement.  After all, bureaucrats already understand the need to evaluate our ideas on the basis of how they effect our society of influence, or the “people” (plural) we serve.  Perhaps we should take it a step further and increase our awareness and respect for people as individuals.  Fundamentally, our nation was built upon the belief that they possess all power on the individual scale, and that our abilities to aide in enabling effective government and order come from their delegation through covenant.

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