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Patronage and Public Administration  

Francisco Panizza, B. Guy Peters, and Conrado Ramos Larraburu

The concept of patronage refers to the power of political actors to appoint trusted individuals by discretion to nonelective positions in the public sector. This proposed new definition avoids an exclusive association with less developed countries and recognizes the presence of patronage in modern democracies, drawing a distinction with broader terms such as clientelism and politicization. Patronage differs from clientelism because the reasons for providing patronage include a list of other motives beyond the classic particularistic allocation of public resources. At the same time, patronage is not strictly equal to politicization, as this definition reduces the influence that politicians exert on the administrative machinery to a distribution of posts. In specifying what patronage is in narrower terms, this definition merges two different literatures, one associated with institutions and political parties, and another with bureaucracies, public policy, and governance issues. Even though the meritocratic civil service is a hallmark of modern democracies, the presence of political appointees in these societies is universal. Patronage provides some benefits for governance, and any normative assessment of this type of appointment should consider the costs and benefits of this practice within each particular political and cultural context.