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What is neoliberal about new public management?

Dutta, S. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-6465-4279, Knafo, S. & Lovering, I. A. (2023). What is neoliberal about new public management? In: Scherrer, C., Garcia, A. & Wullweber, J. (Eds.), Handbook on Critical Political Economy and Public Policy. Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series. (pp. 95-108). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. doi: 10.4337/9781800373785.00015


The authors explore the concept of new public management. The term describes a deep restructuring of the state involving the weakening of the classical welfare state under the guise of increased efficiency and necessary structural adjustments. The authors argue that although the term new public management is widely perceived as the neoliberal approach to public administration per se, the relationship between the two is, in fact, far from clear and highly ambiguous. In order to problematize the notion of new public management and to elaborate its political dimension, the contribution critically discusses different explanations of its association with neoliberalism. The authors argue that the relation between new public management and neoliberalism is rather diffuse: first, in many cases centre-left governments have been strong supporters of new public management, both before and after New Right governments of the 1980s. Second, in many respects, public choice ideas and new public management are not compatible. Third, purported ‘business-like’ methods that are often associated with new public management are rather fuzzy and the dualistic framing of private versus public management has always been conceptually empty. In order to bring deeper insight into the role and politico-economic significance of new public management, Dutta, Knafo and Lovering trace the emergence of the approach in the 1950s and 1960s. Against this background it becomes clear that the success of the new public management approach was based on its ability to create a market-like environment in public administration. The authors conclude that while the neoliberal context was crucial to the development of new public management, the governance practices introduced with this approach had little to do with neoliberal ideas.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is a draft chapter. The final version will be available in Handbook on Critical Political Economy and Public Policy edited by Scherrer, Christoph; Garcia, Anna; Wullweber, Joscha, published in 2023,, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd (
Publisher Keywords: Neoliberalism; New Public Management; Public Choice Theory; Managerialism; Privatisation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
[thumbnail of Dutta Knafo Lovering - Privatisation and politics of depoliticisation paper ISA MARCH 23.pdf]
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