Multi-Level Governance, Policy and Democracy

The area of public policy and gover­nance was tradi­tio­nally one in which the role of the State and formal insti­tu­tions of govern­ment were central. Since the rise of neoli­be­ra­lism in the 1980s the tradi­tional role of govern­ment has come into ques­tion and the State has had many of its’ func­tions rolled back. The private sector has incre­a­singly been brought in to carry out the provi­sio­ning of services (e.g., via public private part­nerships, contrac­tin­g-out), and the mana­ge­ria­lism of the private sector has been seen as ‘the way’ to make deci­sions and take control of insti­tu­tional prac­tice.

This raises some important ques­tions as to how society should be constructed and who should be in control of resource allo­ca­tion, produc­tion and what is consumed. Our rese­arch team addresses these ques­tions and tries to cont­ri­bute to a clari­fi­ca­tion of the role of the citizen, elected offi­cial, poli­ti­cian, busi­nessman, corpo­ra­tion and so on.

Mehr über dieses Thema

Sellin­g-off State assets has resulted in an incre­a­sing role for private compa­nies and corpo­ra­tions in coun­tries under­ta­king this hollo­win­g-out, and this has been promoted further by the poli­tics of auste­rity that has been promoted since the crash of 2008. The ideo­logy of market compe­ti­tion and economic effi­ci­ency have been used to push back tradi­tional areas of govern­ment and public policy inter­ven­tion and remove basic utility provi­sio­ning from the public sector (e.g. electri­city, water, trans­port, housing). In all areas ‘the market’ and corpo­rate mana­ge­ria­lism are meant to be better.

Part of this approach is then to replace govern­ment with gover­nance. This initi­ally sounds more demo­cratic and has promised large effi­ci­ency gains and public expen­diture savings, but in fact this plays out in diffe­rent ways. Mana­ging service provi­sion, such as health care, through contrac­te­d-out provi­ders requires network coor­di­na­tion and can involve high tran­sac­tion costs. Insta­bi­lity arises as provi­ders are regu­larly changed on the basis of cost-­cut­ting exer­cises seeking the lowest bidder for service provi­sion. Quality control then becomes proble­matic. Holding private sector players to account requires that they are regu­lated, moni­tored and policed. Reli­ance on compe­ti­tion in markets that are not at all compe­ti­tive, and typi­cally run by powerful oligo­po­lies, means an incre­a­sing, not dimi­nis­hing, role for regu­la­tion. There is then considerable room for exploi­ta­tion by rent seeking private sector players if that regu­la­tion fails to mate­ria­lise. The desire of the private sector for incre­a­sing rates of return contrasts with public service provi­sion. Problems arise where rent extrac­tion takes over from quality service provi­sion (e.g. high rental rates for old people’s homes milkin­g-off ‘profits’ while cutting back on staff, their wages and the basic services provided to the pensio­ners). Publi­c-pri­vate buil­ding projects, such as hospi­tals, can result in the public purse paying rent endlessly to the private partner for a buil­ding, rather than merely once for the construc­tion. In all these respects, a shor­t-­term gain can be seen as being bought at the expense of a long term loss for the public purse.

Driving these changes from govern­ment to gover­nance is a model of the indi­vi­dual as a consumer, and all services as being products to be sold to the consumer. Govern­ment and the public sector (e.g. civil service) is then cari­ca­tured as corrupt, inef­fi­cient and bad at provi­ding what the consumer wants. Yet the insti­tu­tions of law and govern­ment are a necessary requi­re­ment for any market economy to operate. Markets are noto­riously inequi­table and those at the top (if left to them­selves) can cream­-off vast amounts of money, while shif­ting social and envi­ron­mental costs on to others. This raises ques­tions as to how society should be constructed and who should be in control of resource allo­ca­tion, produc­tion and what is consumed? What should be the role of the citizen, elected offi­cial, poli­ti­cian, busi­nessman, corpo­ra­tion and so on?

Once power struggles are brought forward the role of diffe­rent groups and actors in society becomes self-e­vi­dent. Society is no longer a collec­tion of indi­vi­duals but rather an emer­gent property of human inter­ac­tions through insti­tu­tions. This means the insti­tu­tions of gover­nance become highly important. The role of law in regu­la­ting society is promi­nent here, but there are also a range of informal insti­tu­tions helping coor­di­nate human activity which help avoid or control conflict on a daily basis.

That people hold diffe­rent values and ethical posi­tions means insti­tu­tions for arti­cu­la­ting values are necessary and means of peace­fully resol­ving diffe­rences are required. Problems arise when the insti­tu­tions of gover­nance are seen to be failing to address problems in society, e.g. envi­ron­mental crises, social inequity, human rights. This raises the ques­tion of when should civil disobe­dience take place and under what circum­stances can it be justi­fied, e.g. fighting oppres­sion, oppo­sing harm of the inno­cent. Simi­larly, is there a legi­ti­mate role for the police, judi­ciary, intel­li­gence services or armed forces and if so what is that role and when should it be allowed to operate and when should it be restricted or removed?

Unser Forschungs­team für Multi-­Level Gover­nance, Policy and Demo­cracy

Clive Spash, PhD
Clive Spash, PhD

Stellvertretender Institutsvorstand

ao.Univ.Prof. Doz. Dr. Andreas Novy
ao.Univ.Prof. Doz. Dr. Andreas Novy

Head of the Institute, Researcher at the Institute for Cooperation and Cooperatives

Dr. Viviana Asara, PhD
Dr. Viviana Asara, PhD

Assistant Professor