The expression “the administration of things” has gone through a long history of interpretations and manipulations that have distanced it from its original meaning. Saint-Simon, a utopian socialist, intended the administration of things to replace the government of people (most of whom are imperfect). But the real originator of the expression was his disciple August Comte, who meant that government should abolish arbitrariness, its policy should be based on evidence, and experts in each field should understand the nature of things. This is how public policy should be.

Modern bureaucracy has brought us to where we are. There is a large part of public opinion that hears this word with suspicion. Public management is perceived as in the definition in James Wilson’s book (“Bureaucracy”): “a world of settled institutions designed to allow imperfect people to use flawed procedures to deal with intractable problems”.

And yet, in the small rich part of the world this means longer life expectancy, less poverty and an acceptable level of education for the majority.

But in poor countries, the capacity of the bureaucracy to act is minimal, and not getting any better, as I show in the post “the white elephant at the COP“.

  • Lant Pritchet, on the declining effectiveness of governments: most governments in the world now have less capacity than before, and many are not on track to improve. The facts here.
  • Daniel Kaufmann and Aart Kraay, on global governance indices. You can play with the data here and see how government effectiveness (one of the six indices studied) barely improves from year to year.
  • On the bureaucratic criteria for considering the quality of spending, a 2020 report on public financial management is not optimistic either. Two conclusions:
    • “On average, countries perform better in the preparation of their budgets than in their execution.
    • Internal audit, fiscal risk management, external audit and oversight by Supreme Audit Institutions and the legislature remain the weakest areas of PFM”.

We depend on the administration of things to be able to invest in the fight against poverty, climate change, pollution and disease. If we had unlimited money today, we could not spend it. There is no bureaucratic capacity in most parts of the world to put the machinery to work, neither in government nor in NGOs. This should be our main concern.

This section will show sources (books, articles, websites) that help to build the capacity to do things.