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Article Summary

Bennett, Robert. 1990. "Decentralization, Intergovernmental Relations and Markets: Towards a Post-Welfare Agenda?" Pp. 1-26 in Decentralization, Local Government and Markets: Towards a Post-Welfare Agenda, ed. Robert Bennett. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

In this Introduction to his edited volume, Bennett describes briefly the worldwide movement from "welfarist" policy to "post-welfare" policy. During the post-World War II era, a system of entitlements was developed in many Western nations and the state became a major provider of education, health services, land-use planning, and housing. In recent years, however, there has been a shift in thinking, and in the U.S., the idea of "new federalism" has gained great currency. New federalist philosophy advocates more state and local power, and less intrusion and regulation by the federal government. Enormous global economic changes have also prompted a critical examination in many countries of how the government provides services and its ability to respond the needs, demands, and preferences of citizens. Bennett discusses two main types of decentralization: intergovernmental decentralization, the shifting of power and responsibility for certain government activities from one level to another (for example, from federal to state, or state to local), and decentralization from government to the market or nongovernmental organizations. In the U.S., two forces are at work: intergovernmental decentralization from the federal government to the states, and market decentralization at the state and local levels.

According to Bennett, the U.S. has been a leader in innovation within the post-welfare era in our use of market approaches to service delivery. Bennett identifies six perceptions motivating the shift to the new post-welfare paradigm. He sums them up as follows: 1) government programs are political pork barrels; 2) government administrators and politicians are poor service providers; 3) government intervention encourages dependency; 4) federal government control suppresses local initiative; 5) costs for services have and will continue to escalate out of control; and 6) public support for government programs is low. The shift itself consists of radical changes in thinking about service delivery, including a move to thinking of citizens as "customers" to be served based on their needs and preferences but also with a consideration of the costs involved. Within this framework, services can be provided by the private, voluntary, and nonprofit sectors, and people do not necessarily receive services "as of right."

Managerial accountability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency are stressed, and resource allocation is made more efficient through funding mechanisms such as user fees, which will lessen the need for large-scale, progressive taxation. Bennett acknowledges that these transformations may have implications for equity and for the role of private sector businesses.