Rationality in Administrative Behavior: Value and possibility

There remains for discussion the third element in decision-making; namely, the process of determining preferences among consequences. This process may be termed valuation. To each strategy corresponds a unique set of consequences. Rational behavior involves a listing of the consequences in their order of preference, and the choice of that strategy which corresponds to the alternative highest on the list.

1. The System of Values—Utility Surfaces

Since the values that are present in the various alternatives are both numerous and diverse, the individual in exercising his preference must weigh them and choose among them. The economists have developed a conceptual scheme for describing this process which is very similar indeed to the scheme used here.

The individual’s choices among competing values may be described by a set of indifference curves. These curves indicate which sets of possible consequences are equivalent to each other or mutually “indifferent” to choice. To illustrate with the economist’s favorite goods—nuts and apples— the indifference curves tell whether a combination of ten nuts and five apples is preferred by an individual to a combination of five nuts and seven apples, or whether the first combination is less desirable, or whether the individual is indifferent as between the two.

Empirical limitations upon choice are introduced into the economist’s scheme by the individual’s stock of goods, and by the price structure. It is assumed that the individual starts with a specified number of nuts and apples, that he may exchange one for the other at a specified rate of exchange, and that he then attempts to select that amount of exchange for which his preference is greatest.

2. Relation of Value, Experience, Behavior

The significance of the “means-end” relationship now becomes clearer. It is clear that the “means-end” distinction does not correspond to the distinction between fact and value. What then is the connection between the two sets of terms? Simply this: A means-end chain is a series of anticipations that connect a value with the situations realizing it, and these situations, in turn, with the behaviors that produce them. Any element in this chain may be either “means” or “end” depending on whether its connection with the value end of the chain, or its connection with the behavior end of the chain, is in question.

The means-character of an element in a means-end chain will pre- dominate if the element is toward the behavior end of the chain; the end- character will predominate if the element is descriptive of the consequences of behavior. If this be so, terms that are descriptive of the consequences of a behavior may be taken as indicia of the values adhering to that behavior. While the economist talks of economic goods as the values that are the goals of economic activity, in actuality, of course, the economic goods are merely indicia of the existence of a state of affairs from which value can be obtained—the possibility of consuming the goods.36

The psychological act of evaluating alternatives usually consists in measuring these alternatives in terms of certain value-indices that have been found in fact to be generally associated with the realization of the values themselves—money, for example, may come to stand as an index of the values that money can purchase. These value-indices involve an important factual element, for they presuppose that an alternative characterized by a high value-index will possess a correspondingly high value. For example, if a federal loan agency spends only a small percentage of its funds in the administration of its loans, this may be an index of efficiency, for, all other things being equal, low administrative expenses are to be desired. But of course in this case the ratio of administrative to total expenses would not be a good value-index, because in the absence of definite evidence that the quality of investigation is not changed, it is highly unsafe to assume that all other factors remain the same when administrative costs are reduced.

If the means-end relationship is defined in this way, it does not permit a sharp separation of value from fact, for the same behavior may have as consequence more than one value—it may be a member of more than one means-end chain. A relief policy, for example, in which family budgets are set at a very low level in order to provide clients with an incentive to seek and accept private employment, may also have as its consequences a hrgh incidence of malnutrition and disease among the families of relief clients. An acceptable policy cannot be determined merely by considering one of these means-end chains and ignoring the other.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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