Rediscovery of the Ethical Enterprise

The private sector has standards, but that they diverge from public sector standards somehow was overlooked. (The difference is not in underlying ethical values and prin- ciples but in the number of standards, their emphasis and priority, and the degree of fastidious adherence to them.) Whether standards and aspirations are higher or lower is not the issue here; it’s that they are different.

Perhaps this was forgotten in the rush to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit so prominent in American myth. Coming from a business background, public service would take decades to reorient and acknowledge that public and private management are alike “in all unimportant respects”. As President Jimmy Carter notes in Why Not the Best?,

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Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States, or the Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights, or the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Old Testament or the New Testament, do you find the words “economy” or “efficiency.” Not that these words are unimportant. But you discover other words like honesty, integrity, fairness, liberty, justice, patriotism, compassion, love—and many others which describe what human beings ought to be. These are the same words which describe what a government of human beings ought to be.

The profession had lost sight of government’s fundamental purpose: making and enforcing normatively driven choices and pursuing selected social, political, and economic goals. Still a few practitioners and educators expressed ethical concerns. Years ago, Paul Appleby observed that “the genius of democracy is in politics, not in sterilization of politics.”

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