Discussions of public interest in public administration have generally been concerned with efficiency and economy. The underlying idea has been to see that administrative becomes result –oriented and productive by spending least resources. Alongside this efficient approach, there has been a growing concern about what may broadly be called ‘morality’ or ‘ethics’ in public administrative governments has a universalistic character. It has to serve the common good without making any sort of distinction between man and man. Efficiency in governments has thus a moral tone It is against this background that a broad provide a general framework for the functioning of public administrative
The concern for public interest in public administration can be traced to a variety of reason.
Indeed, the members of the bureaucracy constitute a power elite. They are likely to take decision in self-interest or under pressure from powerful interest groups. In either case. Public interest may be in jeopardy. Another argument has been that the bureaucracy is a mindless machine that turns out decisions mechanically. The rule-bound administration may look very neat and tidy, but it may not be able to serve the winder cause of public interest in public administration. Still another arguments can be derived from Herbert Simon’s discussion on administrative decision making.
According to Simon, administrative decision are often based on ground other than those of efficiency and economy. Social and psychological factors greatly influence the way decisions are taken by the decision-makers.The important of sense of public interest as a winder ethical commitments in public administrative assumes significance in this context.
As it has been very aptly commented upon:
“The most frequently hidden agenda I the deliberations of public servants is the effects of substantive or procedural decision upon the personal lives and fortunes of those deliberation and yet the very call to serve a large public often evoke a degree of selflessness and nobility on the part of public servants beyond the capacity of cynics to recognize or to believe. Man’s feet may wallow in the bog of self – interest, but his eyes and ears are strangely attuned to calls from the mountaintop. As moral philosophy has insistently claimed, there is a fundamental moral distinction between the propositions:’ I want this because it serves my interest’ and ‘I want this because, it is right.”
Philosophies of public interest in public administration fall broadly into four classes. The very intuitionist philosophy seeks to justify existing practices by pointing out that in conflicting situations, the administrative chooses an alternative by intuition. In other words, what the administrative actually does is an intuitionist solution which seems to him the right course of action under given circumstances. This philosophy does not provide any guideline for action, nor does it spell out an explicit theory of public interest in public administration.
Perfectionism, the second philosophical school, views public interest from the standpoint of promotion of excellence in all spheres of social activities. Public resources, according to this school of thought, should be spent in such a way that the best members of the society benefit most from the expenditure. Thus conceived, perfectionism is an elitist philosophy and obviously anti-egalitarian; as such it is not compatible with democratic theory.
Utilitarianism, as propounded by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, has been the most influential school of thought in the determination of public interest in public administration. According to utilitarian philosophy, the public interest is served when a public policy makes everyone slightly better off even though it makes a few individuals slightly worse off. Under the utilitarian calculus public interest is judged by the augmentation of the net balance of social satisfaction.
The fourth major ethical framework for public interest in public administration can be derived from the Theory of Justice as propounded by the philosopher, John Rawls, in this monumental work on the subject. Rawls’s principles are essentially an elaboration of the Anglo-Saxon concept of fairness and these come close to what is called in economics ‘Pareto optimality’ Rawls suggests two basic principles of justice to test public interest in public administration. One of these is that “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others”.
The other principle postulates that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both
(a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and
(b) attached to positions and offices open to all. “In case of conflict between these two principles, the second principle is expected to prevail and give way to the first. Rational decision-making in public administration has to have an ethical framework. The principles of John Rawls provide an operating logic for the determination of public interest by the decision-makers.
The intuitionist philosophy justifies status quo and is of very little help in actual administrative situations. The perfectionist philosophy favours excellence at the expense of social equality. it is patently anti-democratic. Utilitarian calculus has the merit of emphasizing total social good but it also accepts the position that few may be worse off. Compared to all these philosophical positions, the formulation of Rawls seems much more balanced and, as rightly observed by Nicholas Henry, it represents a workable way for determining the public interest by public administrators”