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Downs: Inside bureaucracy

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Downs. Inside bureaucracy.

In Brief

This summary focuses on chapters 8 and 9 of Downs's book.

Role of Hierarchy

Bureaucracy is a system of hierarchy. Every official has superiors, equals, and subordinates. "These superior-subordinate relationships are especially important because every official's chances for improving his position in the bureau, including promotion, higher salary, and success in furthering policies favors" certain actors (p 80).

What Officials Want

Officials have four types of goal: ultimate goals, social conduct goals, basic political action goals, basic personal goals. A particular "type" of goal is specifically bureau-oriented goals which are divided in these subcategories:

  1. Social function goals comprise the values of officials concerning the broad social functions carried out by the bureau to which they belong.
  2. Bureau-structure goals comprise the values of officials concerning the "constitutional design" of their bureaus.
  3. Broad bureau policy goals involve the longer-term objectives that the bureau pursues in order to carry out its major social functions.
  4. Specific bureau policy goals involve the particular actions that the bureau takes in attempting to achieve its broad policy goals.

Fives Types of Official

Downs sees five types of officials running the bureaucracy.

  1. Purely self-interested officials are motivated almost entirely by goals that benefit themselves rather than their bureaus or society as a whole. These come in two sub-types:
    • Climbers (they consider power, income, and prestige all-important in their value structures).
    • Conservers consider convenience and security all-important
  2. Mixed-motivated officials have goals that combine self-interest and altruistic loyalty to larger values.
  3. Zealots are loyal to relatively narrow policies or concepts, such as the development of nuclear submarines.
  4. Advocates are loyal to a broader set of functions or to a broader organization than zealots.
  5. Statesmen are loyal to society as a whole.

Determinants of an Official's Type

  1. Psychological predispositions. An ambitious man tends to be a climber; a timorous one tends to be a conserver.
  2. The nature of the position occupied by the official. Each bureaucratic position exerts a certain amount of pressure upon its occupant to exhibit specific behavior patterns.
  3. The probability that an official actually attain the goals associated with the particular type toward which he is psychologically inclined.

Type and Behavior

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Downs, Anthony (author)Comparative PoliticsBureaucracyPrincipal-Agent

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