Public Ethics and Governance: Standards and Practices in Comparative Perspective: Volume 14

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(17 chapters)
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One of the strengths of this symposium is its focus. All of the articles in this volume concentrate on economically developed nations, with stable polities, traditions of popular government, legal systems grounded in common law, and relatively low levels of corruption. Moreover, they all deal with countries that to a greater or lesser degree have embraced the so-called New Public Management, which implies a degree of skepticism about the governance arrangements grounded in bureaucratic norms derived from the rechsstaat tradition. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they all deal with countries, which, as Denis Saint-Martin explains in his introductory essay, are increasingly distressed about the ethics of public officials despite a paucity of lapses on their part. This makes the case comparisons reported in the symposium especially telling: there is enough variance to be informative, not enough to overdetermine the findings. Consequently, what holds for one case may reasonably be presumed to apply to all.

Concerns over the erosion of public trust have led British and Canadian parliamentarians to introduce some form of independent element in their arrangements for regulating political ethics, while legislators in the U.S. are refusing to make similar changes even if they also face severe problems of declining confidence in politics. To explain these differences, this chapter shows how ethics regulation processes are self-reinforcing over time, leading to more rules enforced through self-regulation mechanisms or to path-shifting changes where legislatures, hoping to break the ethics inflationary cycle, opt for a more depoliticized form of ethics regulation.

The chapter is divided into two broad sections. The first addresses macro or global sources of ethics discontent. This will discuss concern about political ethics in the broad context of complex processes such as globalization, development, liberalization, and democratization. These are clearly huge subjects and there is no space to do justice to their complexities, but the aim here is to identify some key aspects, which have particularly important implications for increasing concern about political ethics. The second section is concerned with exploring the political aspects of public ethics through a consideration of political scandal, because scandals are often cited as the source of unease about ethical standards in public life and as the catalysts for institutional reform.

Codes of conduct have been adopted very broadly on both sides of the Atlantic in the last two decades. They have been introduced for both elected representatives and appointed officials. Though the accountability mechanisms vary, elected politicians prefer self-policing and enforcement. For appointed officials who carry out specialized functions with exposure to particular, clearly identifiable, ethical risks, where the need for public trust and confidence is great, it is important but also relatively straightforward to develop codes of practice. For generalist public servants, the situation is different. The range of ethical risk to which civil servants are exposed is broader. It is less easy to be specific about the risks involved.

In 2004, the Canadian government appointed an ethics commissioner reporting directly to Parliament. I show how an appeal of the ethics commissioner finds its traction in three problem areas. First, there is an increasing distaste in Canada for patronage and other similar forms of partisanship in politics, but there is general uncertainty about the constitutional or ethical standards that ought to apply. Second, the language of democratic criticism and reform of Parliament is rooted less in actual constitutional practice than in an idealized sense of how Parliament ought to work, a problem that is exacerbated by the ongoing presence of the American example. Finally, these both feed into a growing disengagement from traditional party politics and a desire for more “independent” or non-partisan checks on government, of which the Office of the Auditor General is becoming a popular exemplar. As an independent, Parliamentary, and non-partisan check on government, the ethics commissioner appears to serve as at least a partial solution to much of what is wrong with the Canadian political system.

Parliamentary ethics regimes have grown rapidly since the 1970s, but public trust has not increased. This chapter concludes that no single element of the architecture of ethics regimes is necessarily crucial for their effective operation. A determination to enforce standards, combined with an external element, appears to be the most important determinant of success. Much depends on the overall ethos and culture of the politicians who both operate and are governed by regulation.

Canada's institutions, by comparison with America's, have created a unique normative regime. When it comes to conflict of interest, the main problem in Canada has not been that private interests encumber governmental judgment, but that government itself, and in particular the publicly sourced emoluments controlled by the prime minister, can encumber the judgment of ministers and legislators. When it comes to campaign finance law, the problem is that parties are treated as if they are self-interested entities, while interest groups have often been treated as if they are parties. I explore the institutional causes and regulatory consequences of Canada's unique normative approach.

This chapter assesses the impact of ethics laws at the state level in the U.S., focusing on laws that apply specifically to one category of public officials: legislators. I first discuss the positive contribution of ethics laws to the functioning of democratic government. I then turn to the costs of the laws, which are often subtle and counterintuitive. The discussion of the costs of ethics laws draws on a growing body of empirical evidence, and highlights the ways that legislation can have unintended and undesirable consequences.

This chapter examines the range of possible effects of ethics laws enacted by state legislatures. One objective of ethics law, to reduce corruption, cannot be demonstrated. Other objectives, to placate the media, defend against partisan attack, and permit the legislature to move on, have mixed results, while a final objective, to restore public confidence, is not achieved. Nevertheless, ethics law does affect the process, by somewhat discouraging legislator recruitment and retention, by raising the consciousness of legislators, and by changing the cultures of state capitals.

A good theory of leadership unites personal integrity, moral commitments, legal authority, and accountability and effectiveness. This chapter presents leaving a legacy as an approach to organize managers’ and leaders’ ethical reflection. It unites personal meaning with organizational mission and connects a person's significance with organizational results. It embeds leaders in an historical setting, linking their inheritance and their obligations to the future. Thinking of a legacy guides leaders to a less controlling style, supporting people and institutions capable of adaptation and growth. While legacy does not capture all aspects of managerial leadership, it maps broad and rich understanding of leadership and responsibility linked to trusteeship.

Democracies typically impose onerous regulation on the conduct of bureaucratic officials and remarkably light regulation of the conduct of elected officials. The traditional presumption was that politicians should be allowed to self-regulate. In many democratic regimes, politicians have shown themselves unable to carry this burden of public trust. As a result, political ethics is regulated from a perspective of public distrust, associated with fears of political corruption. Despite my personal reservations about professional ethics models (recorded here by reference to recent fictional work of novelist J.M. Coetzee), I revive a trust-based perspective to make a case for a regime of self-regulation for democratic politicians, based on a democratic hope that politicians can be trusted to act as responsible professionals.

Ethical conduct by politicians involves more than respect for the law and adherence to rules governing conflicts of interest. It displays fidelity to a democratic ethos. In this chapter, I provide a characterization of the democratic ethos and sketch its connection to recent work in democratic theory. Second, I describe the sort of fidelity to the democratic ethos that is a condition of ethical conduct by politicians. Third, I suggest a mechanism through which greater adherence to a suitable version of the democratic ethos might be achieved.

This chapter treats the ethical consequences of the diffusion of political power and authority from state to nonstate actors. It claims that with the increased power of civil society or NGOs come more stringent political responsibilities. The sources of these responsibilities resemble those of classic political duties – ordinary moral obligations, Weber's ethic of responsibility, and responsibilities attaching to democratic relationships – but their form differs across roles, tracking the different forms of politician–citizen relationships. NGO politicians should adopt, and be held to, a stringent role ethic as the least bad substitute for the accountability mechanisms of classic, state-based politics.

Theories of knowledge are critical to practical reasoning. Nevertheless, most students of management pay little or no attention to the disciplines that deal most directly with questions about knowledge, its origins, and its nature: epistemology primarily, but the philosophy of science and other related disciplines as well. Even where underlying philosophical assumptions influence their thinking and writing, students of practical reasoning often fail to acknowledge these influences. That is a great pity. By looking to epistemology, a richer and more coherent development of practical reasoning and its contribution to administrative inquiry as a field of intellectual endeavor may be possible. Moreover, the relationship between our understanding of knowledge and our understanding of practical reasoning is potentially reciprocal. A fuller exploration of this relationship may help us better understand social epistemology as well as promote conceptual development in the fields of practical reasoning and administrative inquiry.

Subject Index

Pages 283-288
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DOI
10.1016/S0732-1317(2006)14
Publication date
Book series
Research in Public Policy Analysis and Management
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-0-76231-226-9
eISBN
978-1-84950-355-6
Book series ISSN
0732-1317