Saturday, January 5, 2008

Bureaucrats or Politicians?

Etienne Wasmer has a pointer to a paper by Alberto Alesina and Guido Tabellini that may have a bearing on the comments regarding my post on the "absurdity" of attempting to grade ministerial performance. Alesina and Tabellini organize their analysis around a contrast between the "re-election objective" of politicians and the "career objective" of bureaucrats. Ministers are of course a little of both. Perhaps a better way of formulating my objection to the application of "managerial ideology" to the performance of ministers would be to say that it measures ministerial performance in terms so narrow that it obscures the dual nature of the ministerial role. As I indicated in my comments to the previous post, I do not object to attempts to use statistical tools to measure the effectiveness of policy. But ministers need to be evaluated more on the quality of the objectives they establish for their ministries to meet rather than solely on the efficiency with which their subordinates implement their directives. Are the minister's objectives the right ones? Are they solving the problems they were intended to solve? What unintended consequences might they be generating? The consultants hired by the government appeared to me to have such a narrow focus that they reduced ministers to bureaucrats. Without going so far as to endorse the Alesina-Tabellini distinction, which seems to me in many ways problematic, it is nevertheless useful to be clear about two things: the political role of a minister is not purely bureaucratic, and the bureaucratic function can be performed efficiently but unwisely. Government action should be monitored, but efficiency mustn't become the sole criterion of evaluation.

See also Le Monde's editorial.

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