Public service

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Public service [1] is a service purporting to serve all members of a community. [2] It is usually provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly (through the public sector) or by financing provision of services. The term is associated with a social consensus (usually expressed through democratic elections) that certain services should be available to all, regardless of income, physical ability or mental acuity. Even where public services are neither publicly provided nor publicly financed, for social and political reasons they are usually subject to regulation going beyond that applying to most economic sectors. Public policy [3] when made in the public's interest and motivations can provide public services. Public service is also a course that can be studied at a college or university. Examples of public services are the fire brigade, police, air force, and paramedics.

Service (economics) intangible offering inseparable from its creators labor, which brings utility value to their client

In economics, a service is a transaction in which no physical goods are transferred from the seller to the buyer. The benefits of such a service are held to be demonstrated by the buyer's willingness to make the exchange. Public services are those that society as a whole pays for. Using resources, skill, ingenuity, and experience, service providers benefit service consumers. Service is intangible in nature.

A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state.

The public sector is the part of the economy composed of both public services and public enterprises.



In modern developed countries, the term "public services" (or "services of general interest") often includes:[ citation needed ]

Court judicial institution with the authority to resolve legal disputes

A court is any person or institution with authority to judge or adjudicate, often as a government institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law. In both common law and civil law legal systems, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all people have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, the rights of those accused of a crime include the right to present a defense before a court.

Electricity Physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge

Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. In early days, electricity was considered as being unrelated to magnetism. Later on, many experimental results and the development of Maxwell's equations indicated that both electricity and magnetism are from a single phenomenon: electromagnetism. Various common phenomena are related to electricity, including lightning, static electricity, electric heating, electric discharges and many others.

Education Learning in which knowledge and skills is transferred through teaching

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators, however learners may also educate themselves. Education can take place in formal or informal settings and any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational. The methodology of teaching is called pedagogy.

Public administration

In modern democracies, public service is often performed by employees known as civil servants who are hired by elected officials. Government agencies are not profit-oriented and their employees are motivated very differently. [4] Studies of their work have found contrasting results including both higher levels of effort [4] and fewer hours of work. [5] A survey in the UK found that private sector hiring managers do not credit government experience as much as private sector experience. [6] Public workers tend to make less in wages when adjusting for education, although that difference is reduced when benefits and hours are included. [7] Public workers have other intangible benefits such as increased job security. [7]

Employment is a relationship between two parties, usually based on a contract where work is paid for, where one party, which may be a corporation, for profit, not-for-profit organization, co-operative or other entity is the employer and the other is the employee. Employees work in return for payment, which may be in the form of an hourly wage, by piecework or an annual salary, depending on the type of work an employee does or which sector they are working in. Employees in some fields or sectors may receive gratuities, bonus payment or stock options. In some types of employment, employees may receive benefits in addition to payment. Benefits can include health insurance, housing, disability insurance or use of a gym. Employment is typically governed by employment laws, organisation or legal contracts.

The civil service is independent of government and is also composed mainly of career bureaucrats hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leadership. A civil servant or public servant is a person employed in the public sector on behalf of a government department or agency. A civil servant or public servant's first priority is to represent the interests of citizens. The extent of civil servants of a state as part of the "civil service" varies from country to country. In the United Kingdom, for instance, only Crown employees are referred to as civil servants whereas county or city employees are not.


A public service may sometimes have the characteristics of a public good (being non-rivalrous and non-excludable), but most are services which may (according to prevailing social norms) be under-provided by the market. In most cases public services are services, i.e. they do not involve manufacturing of goods. They may be provided by local or national monopolies, especially in sectors which are natural monopolies.

Public good Good that is non-excludable and non-rival

In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be excluded from use or could be enjoyed without paying for it, and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others or the goods can be effectively consumed simultaneously by more than one person. This is in contrast to a common good such as wild fish stocks in the ocean, which is non-excludable but is rivalrous to a certain degree, as if too many fish are harvested, the stocks will be depleted.

Market (economics) Mechanisms whereby supply and demand confront each other and deals are made, involving places, processes and institutions in which exchanges occur.

A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established. Markets facilitate trade and enable the distribution and resource allocation in a society. Markets allow any trade-able item to be evaluated and priced. A market emerges more or less spontaneously or may be constructed deliberately by human interaction in order to enable the exchange of rights of services and goods. Markets generally supplant gift economies and are often held in place through rules and customs, such as a booth fee, competitive pricing, and source of goods for sale.

Natural monopoly type of monopoly where the average costs are always decreasing throughout the market demand

A natural monopoly is a monopoly in an industry in which high infrastructural costs and other barriers to entry relative to the size of the market give the largest supplier in an industry, often the first supplier in a market, an overwhelming advantage over potential competitors. This frequently occurs in industries where capital costs predominate, creating economies of scale that are large in relation to the size of the market; examples include public utilities such as water services and electricity. Natural monopolies were recognized as potential sources of market failure early as the 19th century; John Stuart Mill advocated government regulation to make them serve the public good.

They may involve outputs that are hard to attribute to specific individual effort or hard to measure in terms of key characteristics such as quality. They often require high levels of training and education. They may attract people with a public service ethos who wish to give something to the wider public or community through their work.


Governing bodies have long provided core public services. The tradition of keeping citizens secure through organized military defence dates to at least four thousand years ago. [8]

Maintaining order through local delegated authority originated at least as early as the Warring States period (5th to 3rd centuries BCE) in ancient China with the institution of xian (prefectures) under the control of a centrally-appointed prefect. Historical evidence of state provision of dispute resolution through a legal/justice system goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt. [9]

A primary public service in ancient history involved ensuring the general favor of the gods through a theologically and ceremonially correct state religion. [10]

The widespread provision of public utilities as public services in developed countries usually began in the late nineteenth century, often with the municipal development of gas and water services. Later, governments began to provide other services such as electricity and healthcare. In most developed countries local or national governments continue to provide such services, the biggest exceptions being the U.S. and the UK, where private provision is arguably proportionally more significant.[ citation needed ] Nonetheless, such privately provided public services are often strongly regulated, for example (in the US) by Public Utility Commissions.

In developing countries public services tend to be much less well developed. For example, water services might only be available to the wealthy middle class. For political reasons the service is often subsidized, which reduces the finance potentially available for expansion to poorer communities.[ citation needed ]

Nationalization and privatization

A group of Chilean 'Damas de Rojo', volunteers on their local hospital. A group of Damas de Rojo.jpg
A group of Chilean 'Damas de Rojo', volunteers on their local hospital.


Nationalization took off following the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century. In parts of Europe, central planning was implemented in the belief that it would make production more efficient. Many public services, especially electricity, gas and public transport are products of this era. Following the Second World War, many countries also began to implement universal health care and expanded education under the funding and guidance of the state.


There are several ways to privatize public services. A free-market corporation may be established and sold to private investors, relinquishing government control altogether. Thus it becomes a private (not public) service. Another option, used in the Nordic countries, is to establish a corporation, but keep ownership or voting power essentially in the hands of the government. For example, the Finnish state owned 49% of Kemira until 2007, the rest being owned by private investors. A 49% share did not make it a "government enterprise", but it meant that all other investors together would have to oppose the state's opinion in order to overturn the state's decisions in the shareholder's meeting. Regulated corporation can also acquire permits on the agreement that they fulfill certain public service duties. When a private corporation runs a natural monopoly, then the corporation is typically heavily regulated, to prevent abuse of monopoly power. Lastly, the government can buy the service on the free market. In many countries, medication is provided in this manner: the government reimburses part of the price of the medication. Also, bus traffic, electricity, healthcare and waste management are privatized in this way. One recent innovation, used in the UK increasingly as well as Australia and Canada is public-private partnerships. This involves giving a long lease to private consortia in return for partly funding infrastructure.

See also

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Privatization transferring something from the public sphere to the private

Privatization, also spelled privatisation, can mean different things including moving something from the public sector into the private sector. It is also sometimes used as a synonym for deregulation when a heavily regulated private company or industry becomes less regulated. Government functions and services may also be privatized; in this case, private entities are tasked with the implementation of government programs or performance of government services that had previously been the purview of state-run agencies. Some examples include revenue collection, law enforcement, and prison management.

A market economy is an economic system in which the decisions regarding investment, production and distribution are guided by the price signals created by the forces of supply and demand. The major characteristic of a market economy is the existence of factor markets that play a dominant role in the allocation of capital and the factors of production.

Deregulation process of removing regulations

Deregulation is the process of removing or reducing state regulations, typically in the economic sphere. It is the repeal of governmental regulation of the economy. It became common in advanced industrial economies in the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of new trends in economic thinking about the inefficiencies of government regulation, and the risk that regulatory agencies would be controlled by the regulated industry to its benefit, and thereby hurt consumers and the wider economy.

Public utility an organization that maintains the infrastructure for a public service

A public utility company is an organization that maintains the infrastructure for a public service. Public utilities are subject to forms of public control and regulation ranging from local community-based groups to statewide government monopolies.

Liberalization is any process whereby a state lifts restrictions on some private individual activities. Liberalization occurs when something which used to be banned is no longer banned, or when government regulations are relaxed. Economic liberalization is the reduction of state involvement in the economy.

A state-owned enterprise (SOE) is a business enterprise where the government or state has significant control through full, majority, or significant minority ownership. Defining characteristics of SOEs are their distinct legal form and operation in commercial affairs and activities. While they may also have public policy objectives, SOEs should be differentiated from government agencies or state entities established to pursue purely nonfinancial objectives.

Public finance study of the role of the government in the economy; branch of economics

Public finance is the study of the role of the government in the economy. It is the branch of economics that assesses the government revenue and government expenditure of the public authorities and the adjustment of one or the other to achieve desirable effects and avoid undesirable ones.

State ownership

State ownership is the ownership of an industry, asset, or enterprise by the state or a public body representing a community as opposed to an individual or private party. Public ownership specifically refers to industries selling goods and services to consumers and differs from public goods and government services financed out of a government's general budget. Public ownership can take place at the national, regional, local, or municipal levels of government; or can refer to non-governmental public ownership vested in autonomous public enterprises. Public ownership is one of the three major forms of property ownership, differentiated from private, collective/cooperative, and common ownership.

Municipalization the transfer of corporations or other assets to municipal ownership

Municipalization is the transfer of corporations or other assets to municipal ownership. The transfer may be from private ownership or from other levels of government. It is the opposite of privatization and is different from nationalization. The term municipalization largely refers to the transfer of ownership of utilities from Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) to public ownership, and operation, by local government whether that be at the city, county or state level. While this is most often applied to electricity it can also refer to solar energy, water, sewer, trash, natural gas or other services.

A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders.

Social partnership is the term used for the tripartite, triennial national pay agreements reached in Ireland.

A statutory corporation is a corporation created by the state. Their precise nature varies by jurisdiction, thus, they might be ordinary companies/corporations owned by a government with or without other shareholders, or they might be a body without shareholders that is controlled by national or sub-national government to the extent provided for in the creating legislation.

Public/social/private partnership

Public/social/private partnerships are methods of co-operation between private and government bodies.

The media of Greece refers to mass media outlets based in the Republic of Greece. Television, magazines, and newspapers are all operated by both state-owned and for-profit corporations which depend on advertising, subscription, and other sales-related revenues. The Constitution of Greece guarantees freedom of speech.

In economics, a government-granted monopoly and the monopoly to be served under government is a form of coercive monopoly by which a government grants exclusive privilege to a private individual or firm to be the sole provider of a good or service; potential competitors are excluded from the market by law, regulation, or other mechanisms of government enforcement. As a form of coercive monopoly, government-granted monopoly is contrasted with a coercive monopoly or an efficiency monopoly, where there is no competition but it is not forcibly excluded.

Public utilities in Colombia are operated by private companies and regulated by the government.

Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that proposes to shift decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, customers, suppliers, neighbours and the broader public. No single definition or approach encompasses economic democracy, but most proponents claim that modern property relations externalize costs, subordinate the general well-being to private profit and deny the polity a democratic voice in economic policy decisions. In addition to these moral concerns, economic democracy makes practical claims, such as that it can compensate for capitalism's inherent effective demand gap.

Privatizationin Australia is the process of transiting a public service or good to the private sector through a variety of mechanisms that was commenced by the Federal Government in the 1990s, receiving bipartisan support. More generally, privatization is a set of economic policies that is part of a broader system of deregulation of government services, underpinned by the ideology of neoliberalism, in order to achieve economic outcomes of growth, efficiency and productivity. Some examples of sectors that have been privatized include finance, telecommunications and infrastructure. Australia's public service has also transformed with the introduction of New Public Management (NPM) in the late twentieth century which altered public administration models to appear more "business-like" through performance evaluations that emphasize efficiency, productivity and service delivery.


  1. McGregor Jr., Eugene B.; Campbell, Alan K.; Macy, Anthony itua; Cleveland, Harlan (July–August 1982). "Symposium: The Public Service as Institution". Public Administration Review. Washington. 42 (4): 304-320. JSTOR   i240003.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. "Definition of PUBLIC SERVICE". Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  3. Anderfuhren-Biget, Simon; Varone, Frédéric; Giauque, David (December 2014). "Policy Environment and Public Service Motivation". Public Administration. London. 92 (4): 807–825. doi:10.1111/padm.12026.
  4. 1 2 Frank, Sue A.; Lewis, Gregory B. (March 2004). "Government Employees: Working Hard or Hardly Working?". The American Review of Public Administration. 34 (1): 36–51. doi:10.1177/0275074003258823.
  5. Richwine, Jason (11 September 2012). "Government Employees Work Less than Private-Sector Employees". Backgrounder. The Heritage Foundation (2724): 1–6. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  6. Ovsey, Dan (27 May 2014). "Public sector stigma: The 100,000 workers Tim Hudak removes from the provincial payroll could have a tough transition to the private sector". Financial Post. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  7. 1 2 Volokh, Sasha (22 February 2014). "Are public-sector employees "overpaid"?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 95 January 2016.Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. Rice, Michael (1998). The Power of the Bull. London: Routledge. p. 13. ISBN   978-1-317-72583-1. As the more advanced social institutions began to take shape they contributed to some counterbalancing of the essential insecurity of man's condition. It was inevitable that ambitious and assertive men should see an opportunity for establishing for themselves positions of power and influence. No doubt many such occasions had their origins in a genuine concern for the public good [...] The position of [...] the war-band leader as the strong arm of the community's defence would increasingly be confirmed by the subjection of the community to the members of what [...] were becoming, demonstrably, elites, [...] This period, embracing part of the fifth and all of the fourth and third millennia before the present era, is absolutely pivotal to the development of the modern world.
  9. Haley, John O. (2016). Law's Political Foundations: Rivers, Rifles, Rice, and Religion. Cheltemham, Gloucestershire: Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 43–44. ISBN   978-1-78536-850-9. Pharaonic Egypt epitomizes a regulatory, public law regime. [...] The principal function of this elaborate apparatus was to maintain order and security, and, above all, to acquire as much of the surplus agricultural wealth and labor as possible.
  10. Hovey, Craig; Phillips, Elizabeth (2015). The Cambridge Companion to Political Theology. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 4-5. ISBN   978-1-107-05274-1. To ensure the favor of the gods was the preeminent task of ancient rulers worldwide, for they all were priestly kings. The Roman Caesar was the pontifex maximus of Rome's state god. The Chinese emperor certainly stood over his subjects as 'Son of Heaven,' but if he fell into disfavor with heaven and his country was visited by famine, plague, earthquakes, and floods, he could be overthrown. The Moloch of Carthage demanded children as sacrifices; the Aztecs and Mayas offered their Gods still-quivering hearts. These political religions were do ut des religions in which the relationship between deity and worshippers was one of contractual exchange.