AuthorKatsamunska, Polya
  1. Introduction

    Throughout the world, the past several decades have been difficult ones for the public sector. Demands for government services have grown, but providing adequate funding has become ever more difficult. The widespread, usually erroneous, glorifying of the efficiency of the private sector, has taken its toll on both the functioning of government and upon those who make it work and manage it. Issues of compensation and pensions for public employees have increasingly become topics of great political controversy as often dubious evidence has been mobilized to make the case that public administrators are both overpaid and incompetent. Civil service systems have come under attack not only in the United States and Europe, but in other parts of the world as well. Similar issues, many of which serve to undermine the capacity as well as the effectiveness of the public sector, are increasingly topics of political controversy in one country or another. Nevertheless, the public problems which countries all across the world face continue to grow and the task of addressing them becomes ever more difficult and complex.

    The consequence of these realities is highly significant for those involved in public administration education and training. The demands and the needs of contemporary society, and the problems it faces, continue to grow even more difficult and demanding. The tools and technologies with which public administrators need to work become ever more complex. Nevertheless, in many critical respects, the task facing those involved in the education of the next generation of public administrators (and those involved in the training or re-training of the current generation) is both a good deal more fundamental and, ultimately, much more profound than simply the teaching of new techniques and the learning of new approaches to service delivery. More critical is the recognition of the very basic realities of the worldwide political and governmental context within which public administrators of necessity must work. These include:

    1.1. Acknowledging the central importance of good government

    One significant consequence of the past half century of attacking government has been the declining recognition that strong and effective government - which public administrators manage and lead - is the single most important, and the one indispensable, institution of any modern society. This is especially the case in the more highly economically developed countries of Asia, Europe and North America. There are at least three reasons why this has been so and will undoubtedly continue to be the case.

    First, it is government that sets the rules for virtually every other institution of society and thus it plays an absolutely essential role as the necessary pre-condition and/or facilitator/enabler of these institutions - whether they are commercial, non-profit, religious or social. When government plays this role effectively, then society is likely to prosper and to develop in very positive ways. When it does not play this role effectively, as we have seen in terms of the failure of financial sector regulation in many Western democracies over the course of the past dozen years, the possibilities for personal and institutional corruption, greed, and taking great risks with society's resources can lead to economic and social disaster.

    Second, it is government, and only government, run and managed by public administrators, that is given the authority to legitimately utilize force to maintain the rules of order in modern society. Consequently, it is government, and again only government, that possesses the legitimate right to take away one's property, one's liberty and, in some countries, one's life. These are awesome powers which are not legitimately the province of any other societal institution but one managed by public administrators. This, alone, sets government, and those who manage it, apart from all other societal institutions and also is why, despite its indispensable centrality to the creation of a good society, holding government and those who manage it, fully accountable at all times is also a critical condition for societal well-being.

    Finally, in almost all cases, it is the public sector, the government, run by public administrators, which is the source of much of the most important innovation in modern society. Most of the new inventions that have transformed all of the developed and perhaps, even more significantly, the less developed World, have been the product of research and development either carried out by government employees or directed and guided through government initiated contractual relationships with nonprofit or private sector entities.

    The computer and radar were pioneered by the British government during World War Two. The internet, geographic information systems, hydraulic fracturing (which has almost overnight changed the worldwide balance of power in terms of energy resources), the medicines which have played a major role in combating AIDS and other epidemic-like health concerns have all been significantly shaped by, or are the direct result of, important government research initiatives. Similarly, much of the technology that has made the owners of Apple and Google multi-billionaires is the product of US government research (Mazzucato, 2013).

    Taken together, these three realities--government's crucial role in enabling the functioning of the other major institutions of society; the awesome authority granted to government; and its ability to produce or facilitate major innovation in society serve to ensure that government is the one irreplaceable and indispensable institution of modern society. Consequently, the role of those responsible for operating, managing and sustaining government, namely public administrators, is in fact as important a role as there is in modern society. Unfortunately, the prevailing anti-government attitudes of the past half century have obscured this fundamental reality and, in so doing, have helped to undermine the actual effectiveness of government by both discouraging talented individuals from pursuing the profession of public administration and disillusioning those who currently are public administrators. Thus, the very first task of public administration education and training is to educate both those entering the field or already involved in it, as well as the public more generally, that this is the one activity that is absolutely central to the future well-being of society.

    1.2. Defending democratic government

    Between 1950 and 2000, the number of governments around the world that could be characterized as reasonably democratic doubled from about 50 to 100, while the next few years saw the continuation of the process of greater democratization. However, as the democratic building of the past decade clearly demonstrates, the process of democratization is neither a simple nor a very straightforward one. Nor is it adequately assessed by tallying up institutional rearrangements at two different points in time and doing a mechanistic assessment of changes in them. The reality is that democracy is inevitably and will always be a 'work in progress'. As the past decade has demonstrated, liberal democracy is not the inevitable outcome of society's march forward. It is very evident that there will be both steps forward, as well as backward, in both democratic and non-democratic countries.

    In fact, democracy is not only a work in progress, but it is a far more fragile reality than is frequently recognized. This fragility is significantly enhanced by the fact that democratic governance is never simple, and often not very pretty, and sometimes not very effective. As Winston Churchill is supposed to have once commented about democracy in the United States, the US government will always come up with the appropriate solution to any problem after it has tried all other alternatives and they have failed miserably. Whether this statement is true or apocryphal, it is nevertheless all too often a rather accurate one. This reality seems to be increasingly encouraging the growth of...

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