Explaining Self-Interested Behavior of Public-Spirited Policy Makers

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Public choice theory (PCT) has had a powerful influence on political science and, to a lesser extent, public administration. Based on the premise that public officials are rational maximizers of their own utility, PCT has a quite successful record of correctly predicting governmental decisions and policies. This success is puzzling in light of behavioral findings showing that officials do not necessarily seek to maximize their own utility. Drawing on recent advances in behavioral ethics, this article offers a new behavioral foundation for PCT's predictions by delineating the psychological processes that lead well-intentioned people to violate moral and social norms. It reviews the relevant findings of behavioral ethics, analyzes their theoretical and policy implications for officials' decision making, and sets an agenda for future research.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)579-592
Number of pages14
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Yoav Dotan, Asaf Eckstein, David Enoch, Yuval Feldman, Joshua Guetzkow, Daphna Lewinsohn-Zamir, Adi Libson, Ofer Malcai, Moshe Maor, and Barak Medina, as well as participants in the Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University seminar, the 2016 conference of the Israeli Association of Law and Economics (Bar-Ilan University), the 2016 meeting of the European Public Choice Society (Freiburg), and the 2016 conference of the European Group for Public Administration (Utrecht) for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article. Shmuel Baron, Tal Mendelson, Elad Spiegelman, and Roi Yair provided excellent research assistance. This research was supported by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and the Israel Science Foundation (Grant no. 1821/12).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by The American Society for Public Administration


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