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New public management: a parliamentary perspective
journal contributionposted on 2017-06-06, 01:41 authored by Hughes, Owen
Within the broader field of public administration, no topic has been more controversial in recent years than that of the new public management (NPM) or managerialism. Books, journals, conferences have abounded on this theme and its variants. As could be expected, there is much confusion, much argument, much in the way of contrary claims. There is even some doubt as to whether there is any change at all. For example, Lynn (1996) argues that he is skeptical as to whether new public management is an international phenomenon or even a phenomenon at all. From the perspective of the UK, New Zealand and Australia, such claims seem to fly in the face of what has happened. There has been a period of managerial reform unlike any other this century. While it can be argued that 'the pace of change is greater in some countries, for example New Zealand, Australia and the UK than in others, such as the US and Germany' (Nunberg, 1995, p. 4), this is only a partial answer. It is also possible, along with the institutional differences that might slow the pace of change, that the debate over the new public management shows a further decline in the explanatory power of public administration. From being a world leader over much of the twentieth century, public administration, particularly American public administration has been left behind. Practical inventions are evidenced more in other countries, while intellectual leadership may have passed to institutional economics. The May/June 1998 issue of Public Administration Review advertised a 'symposium* where a number of writers - including another article by Lynn (1998) - put forward their arguments about the new public management. While many cogent points are made, the overall point seems to be missed. At the same time as there is little more than academic debate in the US, the public services in other countries have been transformed and, in some cases, torn apart. There are theoretical changes of some moment in other countries that have not received the attention or understanding they deserve. Something has happened in recent years. Whether or not it is a change of paradigm, or mere reform, or even business as usual is open to debate. The aim here is to look at NPM from a parliamentary perspective, and more particularly an Antipodean one, where more change has occurred than in the US. Rather than the absence of marked change in the US - contra Osborne and Gaebler (1992) and Gore (1993) - being proof that the new public management is a flawed set of reforms, it is argued that what has happened is another kind of American exceptionalism. Despite being the original home of much of the theory behind NPM, particularly economic theory, the political system in the US diffuses and ameliorates major change of any kind. The effects of NPM can be seen more clearly in parliamentary systems where elected governments have far more effective power over their bureaucracies.