Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism

Bozeman, Barry. (2007). Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism. Georgetown University Press, DC: Beryl A. Radin. Pp. 1 + 186. ISBN 978-1-58901-177-9.

Reviewed by Billy Best, University of West Florida.

Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism is a one of a kind academic masterpiece by Barry Bozeman that gives a deep and compelling understanding of what comprises public values, public interest, public goods, the public domain, and explains with thoughtful examples, on ways of managing the public interest with a term he coined “managing publicness”. The argument that Bozeman assembles is that everyone’s voice can and should be heard in determining the public interest. Rightfully so, he goes on to explain the term in detail. “An ideal public interest refers to those out-comes best serving the long-run survival and well-being of a social collective construed as a “public”. This book was put together with many real life analogies for helping students, and anyone for that matter, (especially those that represent the public in public administration, and various other political positions) in the quest for creating public policies that are not overwhelmingly based off economics, but rather what Bozeman has termed “public values”. Bozeman goes on to state that public values are the normative consensus of rights, benefits, and prerogatives in which all citizens should be entitled to, and these public value principles should orchestrate the direction in which public policies are created.

Bozeman gives the genesis of public interest theory beginning with the philosophical mind of Aristotle, but doesn’t stop there. Bozeman’s lists St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, as making contributions in public interest theory as far back as the first millennium. Moreover, Bozeman suggests that public interest theory is stagnant, as a course of study, in contemporary times, because economic studies (which are quantitative and behavior based) fit better with the philosophy of economic individualism. With more of the economies of the world being based off economic individualism, everyone has the chance to accumulate wealth. In short, economic individualism could be moving in the opposite direction of public interest theory. Even with public agencies outsourcing duties to private firms, there may be a reason for society to focus on public interest theory again because private firms have the opportunity of “muting” the public voice and taking over the public interest. Bozeman lays out the concept of “publicness” as being a way to define a private firm or even a public agency, instead of defining each by its particular economic sector. In Bozeman’s language, publicness refers to the degree a firm or agency is constrained by political authority, while “privateness” refers to the control market forces have on the agency or private firm. In consequence to the privatization that has occurred recently, New Public Management (NPM) has become a major way of allowing market forces to help manage the public interest. Bozeman points out the history of NPM and how NPM uses many of the practices that private enterprises use to cut costs, like lean accounting, and contracting out job functions, that otherwise would be uneconomical for the parent agency to maintain.

Bozeman states the approaches of how public interest theory should be studied in the middle section of the book. Bozeman dubs these approaches as normative, process, and consensualist. Normative being the common denominator of the varying public interest. Process view is composed of three parts, in that it is procedural, aggregate, or forms because of competition among varying interests. The latter approach, consensualist, is the most democratic of all the approaches. Interestingly, Bozeman makes it clear that public interest theory can work hand in hand with economical approaches because there are meeting points between the two. For example, both wish to maximize value for either their shareholders or citizens. However, the ambiguity of public interest theory makes it inferior to the concrete evidence that economic analysis produces.

Bozeman has organized the book to give the basics of public interest theory, then follows with a discussion between public interest theory and market theory, and finally closes the book with a useful theory he created called the Public Value Mapping Model (PVM). This model is simply a tool that can be used in conjunction with economic analysis in determining public value. The PVM is in grid form with four quadrants for placing different public values. The model reveals four important traits of public and private policies. PVM reveals if these policies are strong or weak in terms of Public Failure, Public Success, Market Failure, and Market Success. Bozeman beautifully closes Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism with the real life examples of applying the controversial and perhaps risky case of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and in particular, genetically altered seeds that produce much of the world’s food supply. He shows how public concern, and likely corporate concerns, has led to the creation of GURT, aka, the terminator gene. The grid reveals there is room for improvement for GURT, in terms of it being a market failure and a public success.

Public Values and Public Interest: Counterbalancing Economic Individualism is full of important definitions, examples, public interest approaches, public management practices (NPM and outsourcing of public services), and even a very useful tool in the PVM model. Bozeman doesn’t appear to be politically biased in any direction; on the contrary, he actually shows throughout the book the value of using market forces to manage the public interest. Obviously, that is why the subtitle is called Counterbalancing Economic Individualism. Bozeman simply implies that Economic Individualism can be harmful in the quest for providing the best benefits for the general public. However, he doesn’t take the stance that Economic Individualism is detrimental to our society.

About the Author: Billy Best is a graduate student at The University of West Florida. Mr. Best is pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Science. In addition, he has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from The University of Alabama and a Master of Science in Administration with a Public Administration concentration from the University of West Florida.


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