Organizing Leviathan: Politicians, bureaucrats, and the making of good government

AuthorTobias Bach
Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Organizing Leviathan: Politicians, bureaucrats, and
the making of good government
Carl Dahlström | Victor Lapuente
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017, 270 pp., £22.99 (hb), ISBN: 9781316630655
This book addresses the effects of the organization of government on good government (or its absence). Dahlström
and Lapuente note that existing explanations of good government tend to focus on the input side of political sys-
tems, such as the level of economic development or the design of democratic institutions, while neglecting the state
apparatus itself. The book's core ambition is to demonstrate theoretically and empirically that bureaucracy, rather
than democracy, the economy, or culture, should be considered as the main driver of good government. The astute
reader certainly notes the use of the term government(rather than governance) in the title of the book. This is
obviously no coincidence, as the governance word often has a connotation that public services are (or should be) pro-
duced without substantial government involvement. This book, however, deals with a key aspect of government
organization: the influence of elected politicians on administrative careers.
The book's argument can be summarized as follows: the key dimension of institutional design affecting good
government is the degree of separation of politicians' and bureaucrats' careers. In a situation where political and
administrative careers are separated, bureaucrats are accountable to their peers, whereas they are accountable to
politicians in integrated systems. These two ways of organizing bureaucracies have important implications for
bureaucrats' and politicians' incentive structures, which in turn affect good government. The empirical analysis
supports the expectation that integrated systems have a poorer track record in terms of good government, whereas
separated systems create incentives for politicians and bureaucrats that are conducive to good government.
The book systematically tests the effects of career separation in a sample of more than 100 countries on three
aspects of good government: control of corruption, government effectiveness and wasteful spending, and the use of
performance-based pay, which serves as a case of the capacity to implement innovative administrative reform.
For the authors, the separation of careers is conceptually different from the distinction between closed
bureaucracies with highly regulated employment conditions and a lifelong career and openbureaucracies with
employment conditions that are largely similar to the private sector. In contrast to this distinction based on formal
rules, Dahlström and Lapuente conceptualize career separation as a measure of actual separation of careers, meaning
both an absence (or minimum) of political appointments in the bureaucracy and an absence (or minimum) of trained
bureaucrats in politics(p. 41). They convincingly combine their own dimension of separated versus integrated
careers and the open versus closed dimension into four distinct types of bureaucracy, and show that distinguishing
both dimensions is also empirically meaningful. They subsequently show that contrary to earlier studies, measures of
open versus closed bureaucracies have essentially no effect on good government.
To assess these effects, they use several items and indices from the Quality of Government Institute expert survey to
operationalize their independent variables and use items from the same survey and established datasets (such as the World
Bank Governance Indicators) as outcome variables. Their empirical strategy throughout the entire book is to give estab-
lished theoretical explanations of good government a fair chance in their models, using different specifications and
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12519
626 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Public Administration. 2018;96:626627.

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