The Open Public Value Account and Comprehensive Social Development: An Assessment of China and the United States

AuthorBing Wang,Tom Christensen
Published date01 July 2017
Date01 July 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2017, Vol. 49(6) 852 –881
© The Author(s) 2015
DOI: 10.1177/0095399715587522
The Open Public
Value Account and
Comprehensive Social
Development: An
Assessment of China and
the United States
Bing Wang1 and Tom Christensen2
Human society can be roughly divided into three spheres and each has
different public values. While public values should be at the heart of public
administration and social development, they are often significantly weakened
by their philosophical ambiguity and immeasurability. This article seeks to
clarify the nature of public values, how they are created, and how they can
be measured. An open public value account is constructed as a policy tool
for assessing as many public values as possible. It is used to examine the
public values creation in China and the United States.
public value, social development, public administration
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can
be counted.
—Albert Einstein1
1Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China
2University of Oslo, Norway
Corresponding Author:
Bing Wang, College of Public Administration, Huazhong University of Science and Technology,
1037, Luoyu Road, Wuhan 430074, China.
587522AASXXX10.1177/0095399715587522Administration & SocietyWang and Christensen
Wang and Christensen 853
There are diverse spheres and values in human society, which can be roughly
categorized into “economic,” “political,” and “social.” All these spheres and
values have been extensively researched and debated by scholars from the
corresponding disciplines. As these values are shared and prized by the gen-
eral public, they can be understood as public values—a broad and overarch-
ing topic in public administration during the last decade but one that is far
from being fully explained and clarified. The major function of government
can be revised as the pursuit and creation of public values—for example,
promoting economic growth, improving democracy and freedom, protecting
the environment, and ensuring social stability (Moore, 1995). Private busi-
ness can also learn from the government on how to create public values
(Moore & Khagram, 2004). However, the concepts of “public” and “value”
are still unclear, and the measurement and relations among various public
values are still blurred (Beck Jørgensen & Bozeman, 2007; De Graaf,
Huberts, & Smulders, 2014).2 This situation hampers the public value from a
philosophical term to practical policy tool.
Economic value is generally believed to form the foundation and premise
for other values, but the excessive pursuit of economic value can threaten and
undermine those other values. New public management, which focuses on
economic value such as efficiency and profit, has been influential since the
early 1980s but at the same time has been criticized for its public value fail-
ure, diminishing “publicness,” and narrowing the pursuit of other public val-
ues (Bozeman, 2002; Denhardt & Denhardt, 2000; Haque, 2001; Overeem &
Tholen, 2011; Pierre, 2011). Consequently, public values that are both more
comprehensive and pluralistic have aroused broad interest among scholars
and practitioners. Indeed, It may prove the next big thing and most important
new paradigm for public administration (BBC, 2004; Benington & Moore,
2011; Bozeman, 2007; Bryson, Crosby, & Bloomberg, 2014; Meynhardt,
2009; O’Flynn, 2007; Stoker, 2006; Talbot, 2009; Vrangbæk, 2009).3
In philosophy, value is a profound and somewhat ambiguous concept, so
the study of public values is often hamstrung by more general problems in the
study of values (Beck Jørgensen, & Bozeman, 2007). Owing to the complex
nature of value, it is essential to address at least four interrelated questions.
1. What is value? Most great philosophers have debated the concept of
value and thereby have established the branch of philosophy known as
axiology. Generally speaking, value is understood as the worth of
something, and it can be reasonably declared that food, cars, trees, ani-
mals, infrastructure, income and money (as commodities), education,

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