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Can We? Administrative Limits Revisited


Christopher Hood has taught public administration on three continents, and for the past fi ve years, he has been director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Public Services Research Programme in the United Kingdom. He published The Limits of Administration in 1976, and since then, he has published widely on executive government organization, regulation, and public sector reform. His latest book, The Blame Game, will be published in 2010 by Princeton University Press.


The idea of administrative limits—in the sense of constraints or bounds on what can be achieved by the activity of administration in general and public administration in particular—is important for a proper understanding of twenty-first-century public administration. What are the effective limits of taxable capacity in the modern state, as debt-ridden governments seek to reduce debt levels and budget deficits after the financial crashes and economic recession of the late 2000s? What are the limits of safety and security that can be realistically achieved by administrative structures and procedures in a so-called risk society? What are the limits to the achievement of ambitious social engineering to improve the human lot by conventional organizations and bureaucracies? Such issues are not new. Questions of this kind have long been asked by scholars in the intersecting fields of public administration, policy studies, and political science. Nonetheless, the author argues, they address issues that are of continuing, central importance to government and society in today’s world.