The success of public administrators is intertwined with both their skills and their applied approaches to varying issues. While the capability of addressing problems and concerns are among the determinants of an effective public administrator, the success of his/her endeavors rely on several factors some of which includes the philosophy in elitism, the tactical and strategic use of the bureaucratic processes, the influence of interest groups and a combination of any of the said approaches.
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Among the approaches that can be applied in public policy is the elitist viewpoint. Elitism is defined as a selective group of individuals which possess unique and distinct personal abilities, intelligence, affluence and influence. Individuals characterized as elitist are perceived to possess particular ideas on issues that hold the most significance ideal. In a public administrator’s work, the elitist perspective may provide limitations to his/her circle of interests primarily because the elite are among the minorities in a democratic society.
Since the introduction of the concept, elitism has been iinterrelated with the concept of democratic concepts.
Aristotle’s view of the democratic concept as a thought that divided political systems into three forms – the rule by one, rule by a few and rule by the many, were dismissed by primary elitist theorists Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels. The theorists also criticized Karl Marx’ emphasis on the class struggle and the eventual success of the working class will lead to a classless society, arguing that no such society will exist and the struggle will never end.
The classical elitist theory possesses several weaknesses. The said theory did not merely argued that the socially recognizable people in a country made its important decisions, it also asserts that the common man regardless of their number does not provide such decisions.
While the society’s elite is generally perceived as a stable and constant entity, the individuals in office changes thus reflecting the necessity to view the elites as an encompassing term that includes the individuals with the influence over the government and individuals which are in the position to govern.
Another approach in public policy is based on the institutional theory. The said theory focuses on the government structure, in particular its formal and legal aspects particularly its structural arrangements, policies on decision making and its legal powers and authority. The institutional theory emphasizes the significance and role of structures and rules in the policy process including the level of influence of policy makers within the process.
Public policy can be influenced by a number of institutions. Among these institutions are the national, state and local government, corporations and interest groups. The markets are also an influential entity in public policy as well as foreign political regimes.
Institutional approach in public policy provides more complex circumstances because of the formal government structure and the procedural rules and process are used as a means to hinder or empower political interests.
Among the cases in which the institutional theory can be applied is the legislation of the Farm Bill of 2002 which indicates the power play within the Senate. The constitution mandates that each state shall have two senators therefore granting a larger voting power for less populous states than the more populous states of New York and California.
The third approach in public policy is the Group theory. The theory views the public policy as a result of a continuing struggle among interest groups. Supporters of this theory are often referred to as pluralists. Such individuals believe that interest groups possess a share of power within the country, emphasizing that the power particularly in policy making is pluralistic rather than being controlled by the elites.
A practical example of the Group theory is the case of labor unions against the interests of the private sector. Labor unions organizes lobbying campaigns to executive and legislative officials and calls on the general public through formulating and applying advocacy campaign plans. Such efforts is undertaken as a means to ensure the balance of the policy making process.
However, there are several existing arguments against the Group theory. The theory has been criticized for undermining the leadership capacity of the public officials and exaggerating the role of interest groups in policy making. Interest groups have often been used by public officials to promote and publicize their own interests while attracting support for policy initiatives.
Another approach is the Plurality or Rational Choice Theory which is often referred to as the Public Chose and Formal Theory. The said theory has been applied to questions regarding public policy. A working assumption of the Rational theory is that individuals are rational actors which possess tendencies to maximize their self-interests. Using this theory, analysts study the values of individual, perceptions on a specific issue, information related to the case, as well as expectations on other individuals.
Applied in the public policy process, the individuals include the voters, the lobbyists, legislators and government officials. Using the theory, individuals can critically assess and identify motivations of public officials, their interests i.e. re-elections and other personal interests which often translates to their attitude towards public policy.
Similar to the previous theories, the Rational Choice Theory contains its set of weaknesses. Critics have argued that in reality, individuals are not single minded creatures which pursue only their self-interests. The theory is also said to provide minimal emphasis on the individual’s willingness to engage in collective pursuits i.e. participating in public interest groups or community organizations.
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