When democracies deliver : governance reform in Argentina and Brazil



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This dissertation assesses two competing approaches to public administration reform. Through an in-depth analysis of governance reforms in Argentina and Brazil, I demonstrate that, contrary to conventional wisdom, incremental changes sequenced over time ("problem-solving" reforms) are more effective in reducing corruption, increasing transparency, and enhancing accountability than swift, ambitious overhauls pushed through by political leaders ("powering"). Drawing on cognitive-psychological insights about decision making, I show that gradual, sustained changes are more promising because they allow for modifications and corrections along the way and do not depend on finding the right solution ex ante, a notoriously difficult task in the complex world of policy making. In addition, I examine the influence of political-organizational context on policymakers' decisions to either embark on sweeping transformations or proceed more gradually. I argue that executive power concentrated in single-party cabinets facilitates large-scale change, while executive power sharing frustrates "big bang" reform attempts. The absence of repeated overhauls and the diverse actors involved in policy making in contexts of coalitional presidentialism, however, provides opportunities for technical experts within the state to advance individually small but often cumulatively significant changes. Paradoxically, political-organizational contexts that hinder grand reform attempts may facilitate greater long-term success.