Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On the purposes of governance

Institutions which deliver and reproduce entitlements can fail under certain conditions. Such a state of affairs is often described as a “failed state”
, and when such polities fail in respect of entitlements, safety becomes a question of what degree of habitual restraint remains residually, pending new emergent arrangements.
From earliest times the emergence of institutions to create entitlements has been attended necessarily by the emergence of castes, elites of persons entrusted and delegated to the task. These persons are entrusted, if we may use such a word to include the self-appointed, with the tasks of designing and redesigning the mechanisms of entitlement, of adapting arrangements to changes in circumstances and customs, in order to preserve and reproduce entitlements, and where necessary to add to them. These persons include those responsible for the running of the daily arrangements, the procedures of governance which protect entitlements. These elites have, in addition to the daily details of governance, to anticipate and prevent larger threats, threats to the polity itself, the fall of which would dissolve all entitlement. Thus these castes of persons conduct foreign and defence policy, disaster response, drought relief, famine prevention, trade and monetary policy, police and social control, those arrangements which can prevent threats to the polity itself. For the purposes of this project I propose to call such persons “administrators”, whether their work involves the redesign of systems and procedures or not, that is to say in modern parlance, whether their jobs are legislative, judicial, or executive. Therefore administration is the redesign and application of instruments of official imputation, official compulsion, and official constraint. Work done in this arena is administrative work, and work done outside it is not. They are administrators whether they redesign state procedures, or carry them out.
Economic historian Paul Ivory generalised usefully that there are only three problems that polities must manage as a condition of survival.[1] Polities must manage meaning systems, social order and scarcity. I dare to contribute another generalisation; that there are only three tools that polities can use to address those three problems. Polities can use imputation, compulsion and constraint. Polities, even despotic states, are not people, they are institutions and groups of institutions, and the methods of polities are produced institutionally by means of procedures under conditions of audit for public record. Polities do not have sinews and bones, polities have institutions and procedures.
Polities do not have minds, but they have interests and purposes, in the way that a railway system can be said to have interests and purposes. Failure to attend to the system’s interests and purposes will bring about the failure of the railway system itself, and then history will pave over the railway tracks. So it is with polities. Not having minds, polities cannot think for themselves. Some-one or ones, an administrator, or administrators, must design a state’s procedures on its behalf, and the histories of polities are the histories of the design and redesign of state procedures. If polities are to be helped to survive, then state procedures must reflect state interests, and carry out the strategies of state for the purposes of state.
[1] Paul Ivory, Personal Correspondence, 23 April, 2007.

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