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Public Administration, Market Values, & the Public Interest: A Kohlbergian Perspective

PAQ, Vol. 39 No. 3, (2015)

This article argues that, from the perspective of Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, the imposition of market values onto public organizations creates situational factors in which it becomes difficult for public administrators to discern and advance the public interest. This is particularly true in those instances where administrators must subordinate their personal and organizational interests to the public interest, as the American Society for Public Administration’s Code of Ethics calls for them to do. From a Kohlbergian perspective, the ability to reflect on the public interest – and especially to subordinate personal and organizational interests to the public interest – requires ‘Post-conventional moral reasoning,’ i.e., consideration of the conditions that make for a good society, respect for individual rights, and concern for universal principles of justice. However, the imposition of market values onto a public organization creates situational factors in which the administrator is likely to focus on the accumulation of rewards and the avoidance of sanctions; hallmarks of what Kohlberg terms ‘Pre-conventional’ moral reasoning. Therefore, this article concludes that if we expect public administrators to consistently pursue the public interest, we should not create situational factors that will compromise their ability to do so by imposing the values of the market onto our public organizations.

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