In 1999, Evans and Rauch showed a strong association between government effectiveness (quality of government)—particularly the presence of a Weberian-like bureaucracy, selected and promoted on merit alone and largely autonomous from private interests—and economic growth. In 1997 and the aftermath of the Washington Consensus controversial reforms the World Bank promoted this finding in its influential World Development Report 1997 as part of its broader paradigm on “institutional quality.” Twenty years of investment in state capacity followed, by means of foreign assistance supporting the quality of public administration as a prerequisite to development. However, most reviews found the results well under expectations. This is hardly surprising, seeing that Max Weber, credited as the first promoter of the importance of bureaucracy as both the end result and the tool of government rationalization in modern times, never took for granted the autonomy of the state apparatus from private interest. He clearly stated that the power using the apparatus is the one steering the bureaucracy itself. In fact, a review of empirical evidence shows that the quality of public administration is endogenous to the quality of government more broadly and therefore can hardly be a solution in problematic contexts. The autonomy of the state from private interest is one of the most difficult objectives to accomplish in the evolution of a state, and few states have managed in contemporary times to match the achievements of Denmark or Switzerland in the 19th century. Two countries, Estonia and Georgia, are exceptional in this regard, but their success argues for the primacy of politics rather than of administration.
Following the increasing attention the topic received over the last years, this paper is looking at the use of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in public administration and, in particular at its most prominent example: Blockchain technology. While offering a gentle introduction to the topic, the paper establishes an overview of the attributes and potential use cases of DLT in the context of public administration and bureaucracies. As a technology establishing a decentralised, high-trust data management system, DLT has potential to be used for the storage of administrative data and for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of administrative data management. While potential uses are wide-ranging, this paper offers a simple typology of these. Furthermore, it offers a critical view of the challenges and drawbacks that the technology currently poses to public officials looking at using DLT in their processes. Ultimately, this paper takes the view that DLT can be a potentially valuable tool for public administrations to make use of, but the drawbacks and difficulties associated with this technology are often not discussed or acknowledged as often or as thoroughly as needed, giving a false picture of how easy it would be for governments to use this technology successfully.