On Friedrich Hayek and Public Administration

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Administration and Society


Economist Friedrich A. Hayek, who died on March 24, 1992, at the age of 92, will be remembered as an advocate of free markets and an opponent of government intervention. Here it is suggested that Hayek's writing can be used to argue for an active and productive public administration. Hayek's contends that, because of the limits of rationality, one mind or group of minds can never acquire or use all of the relevant knowledge necessary to run an effective social order. This argument can be interpreted as support for political and administrative decentralization and the exercise of significant administrative decentralization in matters of public policy. Hayek's advocacy of rules to limit the exercise of arbitrary coercion against individuals makes it clear that such discretion must be constrained, but leaves significant room for policy discretion. Finally, Hayek's critique of democracy provides a necessary caution against excessive preoccupation with the accountability of public administrators to the will of the majority. What seems to emerge in this instance is an argument for a system of “constrained discretion” (Spicer 1990).





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