IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Public and Private Bureaucracies: A Transaction Cost Economics Perspective

Listed author(s):
  • Williamson, Oliver E

The public bureaucracy is a puzzle. How is it that an organizational form that is so widely used is also believed to be inefficient--both in relation to a hypothetical ideal and in comparison with private bureaucracies? This article examines public bureaucracy through the lens of transaction cost economics, according to which the public bureaucracy, like other alternative modes of governance, is well suited to some transactions and poorly suited to others. Rather than proceed in a completely general way, I focus on what James Q. Wilson describes as 'sovereign transactions', of which foreign affairs is an example. I ask what it is that distinguishes sovereign transactions, after which I compare the efficacy of public and private bureaucracies for managing such transactions. I conclude that there is an efficiency place for public bureaucracy, but that all modes of governance (markets, hybrids, firms, regulation), of which public bureaucracy is one, need to be kept in their place. I further observe that public bureaucracies are not all of a kind and that differences between them need to be distinguished. Copyright 1999 by Oxford University Press.

To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
1. Check below under "Related research" whether another version of this item is available online.
2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Journal of Law, Economics and Organization.

Volume (Year): 15 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 306-342

in new window

Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:15:y:1999:i:1:p:306-42
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK

Fax: 01865 267 985
Web page:

Order Information: Web:

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:15:y:1999:i:1:p:306-42. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.