The most ubiquitous figures in the history of government – besides the rulers themselves – have been the tax collector and the solider. They have come to symbolize two essential types of government organization: the bureaucratic Ministry and the equally bureaucratic but even more authoritarian military or uniformed services which were by far the largest form of human organization for millennia.
The past century has seen this traditional image of Government supplemented by new forms of organization. The size of the public sector workforce has grown to roughly between 10% and 20% of the total workforce. (The number of Japan is low because the post-World War II Constitution, imposed by the victorious USA, limits the size of the state bureaucracy).
Although the civilian functions of Government have grown enormously and far outstripped – in numbers – the previously dominant armed forces, they have generally been seen through the lens of “bureaucracy”, reflecting primarily the tax-collection, and later benefits paying, agency image. We will argue that this is fundamentally misleading. In fact, as the figure below indicates, the public sector workforce is roughly half education and health workers.
Although taxation and allocation of various forms of individual and corporate benefits have largely remained traditional Webberian bureaucracies the growth of education, health services and social care services has created legions of people working in very different sorts of public organizations – what Henry Mintzberg calls “professional bureaucracies”. So we would argue the 20thC saw the gradual superseding (in size terms) of military style-organization with first civilian bureaucracies and later professional bureaucracies.
The G7 ‘Big Governments of the early 21stC therefore now consist primarily of these three types of organizations – although there are substantial differences across the countries about the balance between them and how they are structured. The following diagram gives a crude idea of the numbers for each type of organization.
This brings us to our final theme for this section – the relationships between politically elected “government” and “civil services” and more broadly between ‘government’ and ‘public agencies’. The boundaries between politically elected officials, their direct appointees, and ‘permanent’ public officials are drawn very differently across G7 countries. Similarly they use very different models of organizing public activities – from the traditional integrated “ministry” to the use of semi-autonomous executive agencies.