What Woodrow Wilson left out of the definition of public administration: capital

Back in 1887, Woodrow Wilson wrote an essay on the importance of the study of administration of government. Mr. Wilson, who would go on to become president of the United States, is usually referred to as the father of public administration. By his definition:

“Administration is the most obvious part of government; it is government in action; it is he executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself. It is the object of administrative study to discover, first, what government can properly and successfully do, and secondly, how it can do these things with the utmost efficiency and the least possible cost either of money or of energy.”
Other scholars have offered their tweaks on the definition. Charles H. Levine, B. Guy Peters, and Frank J. Thompson define public administration as:

“[T]he implementation of government policy and an academic discipline that studies this implementation and that prepares civil servants for this work.” It is “centrally concerned with the organization of government policies and programs as well as the behavior of officials (usually non-elected) formally responsible for their conduct.”

George J. Gordon and Michael E. Milakovich define public administration as:

“… all processes, organizations, and individuals (the latter acting in official positions and roles) associated with carrying out laws and other rules adopted or issued by legislatures, executives, and courts.”

And Melvin J. Dubnick and Barbara S. Romzek provide the following take on this branch of political science:

“The practice of public administration involves the dynamic reconciliation of various forces in government’s efforts to manage public policies and programs.”

Looking back on my public administration studies and my time as a practitioner, I can say that the above definitions capture the various facets of the discipline; that academics and practitioners do not vary much from these definitions when either studying the administration of public policy or carrying out public policy and managing institutional systems. The problem, however, with the study and practice of public administration in a market-oriented political economy is that the study of public administration rarely if ever addresses public administration’s impact on private capital, specifically, how management of public capital positively impacts returns to private capital.

In getting to his description of public versus private capital, Thomas Piketty first describes national capital “as the total market value of everything owned by the residents and government of a given country at a given point in time, provided it can be traded on some market.” National wealth includes land, dwellings, commercial inventory, other buildings, machinery, infrastructure, patents, bank accounts, mutual funds, stocks, bonds. Mr Piketty found that public capital or public wealth are assets and liabilities held by government and other social entities including towns and other social insurance agencies while private capital or wealth is made up of assets and liabilities held by individuals.

One question that public administration does not address is how best to deploy public capital to boost returns to private capital. While there is literature discussing how public sector spending can boost gross domestic product or even productivity, the study of public administration silos itself by discussing fiscal policy, infrastructure, and public goods, and leaving the discussion of private capital to the markets.

Why is this discussion necessary? Public sector spending needs discipline. How many of us have asked the federal government to provide a cost analysis of each tax dollar we spend and then provide some data on returns on that tax dollar? I wager none. But if public spending on the public goods that act as inputs for private sector production was done at low cost to the tax payer while providing a low cost input for the private sector, could public administration play a more meaningful role in the production of returns on private capital?

It is a question worth pursuing.

For Blacks, government is god

Every Monday and Wednesday night I allow myself a little political entertainment by tuning into YouTube and watching Yvette Carnell, founder and editor of Breaking Brown.com. Ms Carnell brings a passion and data driven analysis to political and social events impacting descendants of slaves brought to the United States from Africa. Ms Carnell “keeps it real” about the economic plight of black Americans and is especially scathing of those who fail to view politics as an avenue for obtaining resources, particularly capital, as reparations for the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and the lingering effects that slavery has on the present members of the African Diaspora brought to America.

Where Ms Carnell loses me is when she proposes that government is the only option for righting wrongs perpetrated by the holders of capital on slaves imported from Africa. Government, as I interpret Ms Carnell, should bear the burden of providing the descendants of African slaves with treatment equal to those received by whites who have certain privileges available to them as a result of their lineage. Ms Carnell rejects talk of black American self-reliance arguing cogently that black American descendant of slaves brought from Africa are at a severe disadvantage because it was never the intent of government to extend sufficient capital in the direction of blacks so that they could thrive in America.

Ms Carnell’s 43,000 YouTube subscribers for the most part agree with her and I know plenty of people, some of them friends, who would sympathize with her position. Government has been the source of oppressive tactics and strategies against blacks in America for centuries. Some blacks also consider government the source of positive change in American society, from the banning of the separate but equal doctrine for schools, common carriers, and other public facilities, to extending universal suffrage to black voters in the South. So while blacks in America perceive the real world as one of pain and suffering, government, the entity that has and still does keep a boot on the throats of blacks, is also viewed as a very present help in trouble.

But rather than god, what if blacks treated government as a protection agency option? I came across this phrase when I read The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg.  The authors, proponents of a movement from onerous customs and tax districts like the United States, described various governance structures for occupied territories and how modern digital communications technology could enable individuals to either live outside of the barriers of traditional governments or carve out their own sovereign niches within them.

Admittedly the problem with the approach of The Sovereign Individual is the level of capital that one would need in order to exercise the type of autonomy described in the book. It takes a great degree of capital to negotiate the occupancy of a physical space where the individual doesn’t pay traditional taxes; where within carved out areas the individual provides for their own police services and can exercise the right to legally exclude anyone who does not fit their criteria of community.

The biggest problem I believe is mindset. There is a malaise within the black population; a narrative that any attempts at freedom would be met by actions similar to those that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Between 31 May and 1 June 1921, a white mob attacked the black American community of Greenwood, a thriving community within Tulsa known as “The Black Wall Street.” Where conversations arise about furthering black economic empowerment, naysayers raise their heads citing the egregious state actions that occurred in Tulsa that Memorial Day weekend.  Almost 100 years after the military and terrorist attack on Greenwood, the survivors of the attack have not been compensated. Petitions to the government have resulted in dedication of a park and some scholarships for descendants. Can anyone say that the State has dome right by its black American parishioners? Can blacks afford to use the memories of these behaviors to prohibit them from getting out of State-sponsored hell?

For blacks, government is god. This god is not benevolent and sooner or later, the church service has to end.

The Politics of the Disassociated Man

Much to the chagrin of the anarchist, politics will always exist. Politics supersedes government. By definition politics is the conflict over the leadership, structure, and policies of government.  Government is the institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. The mistake most make when analyzing politics is to confine the concept to the power struggle for control for government. There is plenty of political theater to keep us preoccupied.

Yesterday’s vote in the Senate to reverse a repeal by the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules is an example of such political theater where congressional Democrats hoped to leverage a vote for the return of net neutrality rules into an appeal to 86% of Americans who support the open internet principles to remember the Left during this coming November’s mid-term elections.

In this case the ripple effects of the attempt may be short-lived. The House now has to take up the resolution that vacates the repeal and even if the House passes the Senate’s resolution, there is the threat of a veto by the President and given Republican control of the House, both passage or an overturn of a veto is highly unlikely.

Whether voters even inject into their decision matrix the Democrats’ net neutrality vote, I believe, given increases in oil prices and the threat of inflation that net neutrality will be the last factor to be considered in the voting booth.

The importance of politics exceeds dramatics on C-SPAN. When you replace “government” with the word “society”, politics takes on a clearer and probably scarier meaning. Politics is really about the conflict over how society is structured and led, including the decision on how resources will be used, where ownership of resources will be directed, and the values that society will follow.  Government and the types of government available for use are merely tools for managing the conflict including managing resources and value.

Government rises to the top of organizing options when there are too many conflicting values. The United States is an example. I like to argue that the United States stopped being a country when it attempted the incorporation of non-European people into society. During the era after the American civil war, the United States embarked on becoming a nation-state, becoming too diverse and too large to organize itself organically based on traditional values. As a democratic nation-state becomes more diverse in part because its political leaders recognize that to maintain market share they must attract more voters, ironically, there is an increase in marginalization. There is only so much room under the tent that one can occupy without getting wet.

For the marginalized group or individual that prefers avoiding the rain with their own umbrella or poncho, navigating the politics is typically a non-option. They see government’s rules and initiatives as having failed them so participating in the conflict to control government is a waste of time. They would rather practice societal politics sans government participation. Getting others in society to get them what they want, when they want it, and how they want it may be achieved through voluntary exchanges of value outside of government rules and institutions. And given the over ninety percent of property is in private hands and when combined with digital communications technology, renewable energy, and shared transportation, the ability to become disassociated increases.

For the politician that wants to increase her market share in the political market place, disassociation creates a dilemma.

Abandoning the philosophy of inclusion

Inclusion as a social or public policy goal is a decrepit substitute that favors blacks that already have university educations or networks to the white majority. As political philosophy it transmits a false signal that the best way to construct and manage society in the United States is to ensure that all citizens, no matter their lineage or creed, are integrated into the American social fabric and that this integration will trickle down into economic opportunities and infrastructure that transports and connects commercial activities.

Many in the black populace take the position that government is some guarantor of equal treatment and that government is needed to enforce equity and justice. But is that government’s prime mission or are attempts at enforcing equity, justice, and equality merely ancillary to a more basic objective: the day-to-day maintenance of a tax and customs jurisdiction that calls for effective management of the jurisdiction’s human occupants.

The inclusion narrative may be just that, a doggy bone that keeps blacks at bay so that the conduits of commerce are protected from attack. The last 55 years have seen the doggy bone effectively tossed at blacks in the form of civil rights legislation, an increased number of political appointments, and greater access to government jobs. The black middle class saw improvements in its income status between the mid-1960s into the mid-1980s, but for decades this collective has been facing increased competition from other marginalized groups, i.e., gays, women, Latinos, Asians.

There are only so many inclusion slots to go around which means continued entry requires compliance with rules and standards of entry that remain in flux, making entry more difficult and the cost of entry higher in price.  The pursuit of inclusion also keeps blacks in “begging mode”, using every opportunity to ask government agencies and large corporations to throw another doggie bone or two toward the black community.

Unfortunately, these doggie bone requests are made by the black elite on behalf of their black elite partners. Last month I watched a congressional hearing where a leading black congressman asked the CEO of a social media company what efforts were being made to add more blacks to the board of directors of his company. The CEO gave the standard canned response, that they were looking diligently for the opportunities within which to plug any potential black directors. I was not phased by the answer. I expected it. I was more phased by audacity to ask the question, one seemingly unrelated to the topic of the hearing. But that is what happens when a group is in constant begging mode. It can’t see beyond the short term.

In addition, the average black person doesn’t have the credentials to sit on a corporate board of directors. The average black person, with real wealth hovering close to zero, is balancing the day-to-day needs of family and does not have the experience, education, or time to sit on a corporate board of directors. This is not the average black person’s definition of inclusion.

The black elite understand that their constituents are a different breed of barbarian at the gate. They leverage the past pain of slavery (a pain no living black has endured but it makes good theater) and the pain of job and housing discrimination into a narrative that says dependence on government and more inclusion in society should do the trick.

But this narrative has done nothing for blacks. It requires coming back to the trough every two years and threatening political parties to appease a narrative of weakness in exchange for votes.

When local government meets high tech sovereigns

Sometimes I think city government is sleeping at the wheel when it comes to technology and capital flows. During its lucid moments, government will fall back on its 1960s playbook of economic development by announcing plans to bring back manufacturing jobs that pay better wages than the service sector jobs that replaced factory work and eviscerated wages. This narrative may have worked in a locality that was created to take advantage of proximity to a local natural resource where factories could then convert the resources into goods for local and other markets, but for a city like a 21st century Atlanta, that narrative is disingenuous.

Atlanta’s “natural resource” today is information. Workers who know how to find, extract, organize, and distribute information are going to be the one’s who obtain employment and the higher wages that come along with work in the information sector. This demand for an information-centric political economy, I believe, is being driven by the changing tastes of capital. Capital wants its goods and services delivered conveniently and its production customized.

Information technology allows capital to target funds directly to high-value driven information entrepreneurs that can deliver a product that was designed, manufactured, packaged in, and delivered from multiple jurisdictions. Capital has no love for mass appeal. Why deal with crowded banks, malls, car dealerships, or grocery stores when extra minutes of leisure can be carved out by the manufacturing and service delivery efficiencies provided by Tesla, Uber, Grubhub, and Insta-cart.

Along with these efficiencies in product manufacturing and delivery come smaller work forces or work forces outside of the jurisdiction of local governments. Local governments have been the front line defense of investor capital from disgruntled labor. They regulate labor union speech during strikes. Where there is violence they arrest the rowdy. However, in an information age where there are a greater number of tech shops employing smaller numbers of non-unionized information workers versus a handful of large factories employing thousands of unionized lower-skilled workers, there is less demand for the police powers of local government. Disgruntled employees at today’s tech shops simply take their information knowledge somewhere else or create their own firm.

Eventually government starts tossing and turning in its sleep. It sees its “labor clamp down” requests severely diminished. Higher incomes start translating into reduced need for government services from garbage removal to security. Higher income earning citizens may consider pooling resources to support campaigns of candidates who agree to reducing tax burdens are, too the extreme, support carving out or “leasing sovereignty” to higher income communities.

Question is, how will those with no capital react to the erection of this wall of individual sovereignty?

Government defined by distraction

The past 85 years have created an illusion as to what American government is. In the 1930s, government became a fuel injector for the American economy where the Executive branch pumped money into public works programs designed to employ idle labor. New regulatory regimes were created to regulate away the excesses of speculation and manage the extraction and use of natural resources.

By the 1960s, government took on the additional role of social justice guarantor, crafting and delivering legislation designed in part to further incorporate black Americans into national society and to provide other social services including healthcare to children and the elderly.

Through its military and science branches, government continued its research, development, and investment into computer networks and outer space. It was out of these activities that the internet was spawned allowing my five faithful followers to read this blog.

It is no wonder that Barack Obama said in 2012 with some authority the following:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

The reality is that government as a noble entity is a myth; that the past eight plus decades have been a distraction from what we should only expect from government; that it is an entity that expands its control over jurisdictions anywhere in the world for the benefit of its financiers. What we should expect from government should be more in line with Donald Trump’s views on Iraqi oil:

“If we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil, but, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.”

While many were taken aback at the bluntness of Mr Trump’s statement, the President honed in on the primary expectation we should have of government, an entity that acquires and manages resources.

Americans have an issue with ugliness being exposed. They are weary of the guilt-fest they have endured over the past sixty years in particular, from scenes of police dogs attacking black Americans in Birmingham, Alabama to American military personnel being accused of murdering civilians in Iraq. But in the words of Mr Trump, “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

Unbeknownst to him, Mr Trump summed up the core expectation of government; that of acquirer of resources. Any “noble” distribution is a response to the distractions caused by the powerless who are able to sneak into democracy’s nooks and crannies to agitate just long enough for social benefits that pale in size to the benefits flowing to the holders of government bonds. An irony, that there is distraction on both sides ….