Equity or Efficiency? Explaining Public Officials' Values

Date01 January 2019
Published date01 January 2019
Equity or Eff‌iciency? Explaining Public Off‌icials’ Values 25
Abstract: This article analyzes the positions of top public officials on an equity-efficiency trade-off and the
determinants of those positions. It uses data from a survey across 14 European countries. The results show that
differences in public officials’ positions on equity-efficiency are related to the context in which they work and to their
personal background. Officials at the top of the hierarchy and those with a business or economics education are more
oriented toward efficiency. Additionally, results show important differences associated with country administrative
culture, including a stronger equity orientation in Scandinavian countries, and a stronger efficiency orientation in
Southern European countries. The positions of public officials reflect those held by citizens in their country, confirming
the contextualized nature of administrative values. This article contributes to understanding the determinants of
public officials’ dominant values.
Evidence for Practice
• Understanding the determinants of the value trade-offs that public officials make is key for the analysis of
their policies.
• A manager’s level in a public organization significantly influences his or her position on a trade-off between
equity and efficiency.
• Exposure of public officials to business or economics education, working experience in the private sector, and
seniority in the public sector are related to the equity-efficiency trade-off that officials make in their jobs.
• Important countr y differences exist with regard to the equity-efficiency trade-off positions of senior
bureaucrats. These differences are strongly related to the administrative culture of the country and to the
dominant values held by the population in general.
Conflicting values and value trade-offs have
received a lot of attention in philosophy and
economics. In public administration, attention
to public values appears to be on the rise (Bryson,
Crosby, and Bloomberg 2014; van der Wal, Nabatchi,
and de Graaf 2015), and substantial progress has
been made in relation to mapping, categorizing,
and conceptualizing public values (Jørgensen and
Bozeman 2007; Molina and McKeown 2012; van der
Wal and Huberts 2008; Van Wart 1998).
Easton (1965) famously described politics as the
authoritative allocation of values. Government has
to make choices between conflicting values. These
tensions between values can be found everywhere
within the public sector, especially when there
is allocation and redistribution. The “uneasy
compromises” between values are represented in
institutional arrangements (Okun 1975, 1). Public
management is about managing contradictions
(Pollitt and Bouckaert 2004; Greener 2013). Civil
servants want to achieve values and objectives that
may be incompatible (Andrews and Entwistle 2010;
Andrews and Van de Walle 2013; de Graaf, Huberts,
and Smulders 2016) and thus have to choose in daily
administrative practice. This article contributes to
the body of research on conflicting public values and
value pluralism in the public sector (Spicer 2015), as
well as to the literature on trade-offs between equity
and efficiency, both in general (Okun 1975) and in
the particular context of public services (Norman-
Major 2011). In particular, the objective of this article
is to analyze what factors determine the positions
of public officials on a balance between equity and
efficiency, using data from a large survey of top public
officials in 14 European countries.
The Equity-Eff‌iciency Trade-Off
The efficiency-equity trade-off is one of the perennial
questions in the social sciences. A trade-off refers to
a situation in which one has to balance or choose
between two objectives that are opposite or that
cannot be had at the same time. Examples of the
efficiency-equity trade-off can be found in the
Equity or Efficiency? Explaining Public Officials’ Values
Marcos Fernández-Gutiérrez
University of Cantabria
Steven Van de Walle
KU Leuven
Research Article
Steven Van de Walle is professor
of public management in the Public
Governance Institute, KU Leuven. His
research focuses on public sector reform,
public service failure, and attitudes of public
officials. His recent books are
Theory and
Practice of Public Sector Reform
2016, ed., with Sandra Groeneveld) and
Public Administration Reforms in Europe:
The View from the Top
(Edward Elgar, 2016,
ed., with Gerhard Hammerschmid, Rhys
Andrews, and Philippe Bezes).
E-mail: steven.vandewalle@kuleuven.be
Marcos Fernández-Gutiérrez is
associate professor of economics at the
University of Cantabria. His research focuses
on analysis of public services from the
citizen’s perspective. His recent research has
been published in journals such as
Studies, Regulation & Governance, Journal
of Economic Policy Reform, International
Review of Administrative Sciences,
Journal of Regulatory Economics
E-mail: marcos.fernandez@unican.es
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 1, pp. 25–34. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12996.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT