Commentary: Public Value Governance or Real Democracy

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
504 Public Administration Review • July | August 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 504–505. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12250.
Daniel L. Feldman authored more than
140 laws as a member of the New York
State Assembly from 1981 through 1998.
He served as senior member of the New
York State attorney general’s staff for six
years and as special counsel to the New
York State comptroller for three years. At
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he now
teaches as associate professor of public
management. He has written several books
and many articles on American law and
Daniel L. Feldman
John Jay College of Criminal Justice,
City University of New York
If there are political activists who look to modern
theorists for guidance, they should heed the warn-
ing by Adam Dahl and Joe Soss in “Neoliberalism
for the Common Good? Public Value Governance
and the Downsizing of Democracy,” that the public
value school, while well intentioned, can encourage
the erosion of truly democratic self-government by an
unhealthy partnership between public and corporate
managers. Dahl and Soss emphasize the “process” part
of the problem.  ree and a half decades in public
service lead me to believe that they suggest but under-
state the threat posed by that partnership to social and
economic justice as well.
Dahl and Soss point out that public value theorists
have misdirected their f‌i re.  ey have attacked the
neoliberal agenda as an ef‌f ort to shrink government,
when, in fact, the real victory of the neoliberals has
been to fuse government and the private sector, often
to the disadvantage of the public, as evidenced by the
capture by private contractors of so much of what
had been the realm of civil servants.  e “market
template” that neoliberals use as foundation for that
fusion has also been adopted as a model for public
value, so public managers are encouraged to “pursue
public value by cultivating an entrepreneurial and
managerial imagination,” while their “[l]eading works
say almost nothing about the realities of entrenched
power and political bias, the barriers to democratiza-
tion, or what it would take to overcome them.”
Public value theorists largely ignore what may well be
the most serious challenge to American democracy:
“As economic inequalities have skyrocketed, political
innovations have forged a tighter bond between mate-
rial af‌f‌l uence and political inf‌l uence,” Dahl and Soss
write.  e political power of the super-rich, for exam-
ple, enables hedge fund managers to pay the maxi-
mum capital gains tax rate of 23.8 percent in 2014
rather than the maximum earned income tax rate of
39.6 percent, to take the mortgage interest deduction
on their yachts, and to enjoy other tax benef‌i ts for
their private jets (Kristof 2014). Twenty-f‌i ve of these
same plutocrats took home more than $21 billion in
pay in 2013, when many of their hedge funds failed to
outperform the market (Stevenson 2014).
Some public value theorists urge citizen delibera-
tion but see public managers as “guardians” of the
common good who should “manage” its “disruptive
potential.” Even if public managers use these tactics
for worthwhile ends, such an approach dishonors
Public Value Governance or Real Democracy

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