Government Administration vs Private Citizens

Protestors and police confront each other

This episode of Ideas in Progress (Episode 27: The Problem of “Public Governance”) was recorded prior to George Floyd’s death and the protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. As such, Dr. Boetkke does not address these events specifically, however, his discussion and research regarding community policing and police reform are currently at the forefront of a larger conversation taking place nationwide.

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“From its quiet origins .  . . liberalism has always been an emancipatory movement, but can we really have emancipation without full-on abolition?” Ideas in Progress host Dr. Anthony Comegna asked. Dr. Peter Boettke, professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University, explored public governance and his 2019 co-authored book Public Governance and the Classical-Liberal Perspective.

In the book, Dr. Boettke explained, they begin with the idea of a constitutional order in which a structure of government is formed to both empower it to do what it needs to do but also restrict it from overstepping.

Dr. Boetkke argues that the role of government should be more narrow and that government should only be doing things that private citizens are unable to do. One area where he sees that public administration is in need of reform is police programs. When police programs are admininistered badly, they can become examples of “the predatory State.”

“How actually are police services going to be instituted in a society,” he asks, “are they for the citizens or are they for something else?”

Dr. Peter Boetkke

He continues by addressing the concerns of public safety, and how an administrative approach keeps the services removed from the citizens themselves.

That’s a consequence not of delivering public safety that satisfies the demands of citizens, but delivering police services in an administrative way removed from the citizens themselves. We want to get the delivery of public services back in the hands of the citizenry…switching from seeing like a state to seeing like a citizen.

–Dr. Peter Boettke

It is through this bottom-up approach, and giving public services back to the public – the citizens – that Dr. Boettke believes we can see real reform.

“We also have a problem, because we think that these checks and balances, that have in fact eroded over the years, are still working.”

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