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Strategies for GoverningReinventing Public Administration for a Dangerous Century$
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Alasdair Roberts

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501714405

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501714405.001.0001

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Commitment or Equivocation

Commitment or Equivocation

(p.112) Chapter 18 Commitment or Equivocation
Strategies for Governing

Alasdair Roberts

Cornell University Press

This chapter distinguishes between commitment and equivocation in the design of governance strategies. For the last thirty years, “credible commitment” has been a stock phrase in scholarly writing about government. Governments are said to have a credibility problem, because citizens and businesses do not trust them to keep promises about how they will behave in the future. The task for leaders is to find techniques for demonstrating that they will keep their word, by designing institutions that make it hard to break promises. These institutional arrangements are called commitment devices. It can then be concluded that leaders are mainly concerned with finding clever ways to solve commitment problems. Commitment, it seems, is the key to prosperity, order, and legitimacy. Leaders want people and businesses to make choices that stimulate growth and deepen their own attachment to the existing order. However, the situation confronting leaders is actually more difficult than this. Sometimes equivocation rather than commitment is the sound choice. Leaders know that there will inevitably be emergencies where everyday rules have to be put aside, and they do not want to make it impossible to do this. For example, property might need to be seized in the name of national defense.

Keywords:   governance strategies, credible commitment, governments, commitment devices, state institutions, equivocation, property seizure

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