Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Business

Schools and Centres


First Supervisor

Professor Gregory Moore

Second Supervisor

Jane Harrison


The economics of bureaucracy (EOB) is a field of research that emerged from the public choice movement in the mid-1960s through to the early 1970s. It entailed applying traditional economic theories and modelling techniques to study decision-making in non-market hierarchies that are often referred to as bureaucracies. The field was pioneered and codified by Gordon Tullock, Anthony Downs, and William Niskanen in what may be called the ‘golden age’ of EOB. Establishing EOB as a bona fide research domain was a challenging intellectual enterprise due to the absence of a pre-existing conceptual framework to readily model bureaucracies within the economics discipline and because the non-market domain was then not usually considered to be a relevant subject for economists to study. Metaphors, analogies, and other rhetorical devices therefore played an especially important role in generating and justifying the nascent economic theories of bureaucracy proposed by the early EOB pioneers. This thesis traces the evolution of EOB during these formative years. A ‘case study’ approach is adopted to reconstruct the unique contributions of the three key EOB pioneers by placing their innovations in historical context, elucidating their key propositions and models, and analysing the rhetoric they employed to advance their theories. The most important contention of the thesis is that the relative success of the different theories presented by the EOB pioneers was, in part, due to the different metaphorical representations of bureaucracy deployed in their works. It is also argued that the overwhelming success of Niskanen’s ‘budget-maximising’ model caused the theoretical insights of the other EOB pioneers to be neglected.

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Business Commons