cabinet portfolio analysis of 201
La Rochelle Business School, Excelia Group, La Rochelle, France
Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Espoo, Finland
Universität Witten/Herdecke, Witten, Germany
University of Wisconsin –La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation
University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Yerevan State University, Yerevan, Armenia
Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands, and
KPMG Global Strategy Group, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Purpose –The purpose of this paper is to examine how much value national governments worldwide place
on political, economic, scientific, artistic, religious, legal, sportive, health-related, educational and mass media-
related issues. This knowledge is critical as governments and policies are typically expected to be congruent
with the importance these issues have for society.
Design/methodology/approach –Drawing on theories of polyphonic and multifunctional organization,
the authors recoded and analyzed a US Central Intelligence Agency directory to test the cabinet portfolio of a
total of 201 national governments for significant biases to the above issues.
Findings –The results suggest that governments worldwide massively over-allocate their attention to
Originality/value –The authors conclude that this strong pro-economic governance-bias likely translates
into dysfunctional governance and development at both the national and supra-national level.
Keywords Social systems, Functional differentiation, Cabinet portfolios, Governments,
Paper type Research paper
In office since March 2018, the 24rd Federal Cabinet of Germany consists of –at least –four
ministries for economic issues, one ministry of health and one for both education and research.
Economic issues are certainly important. Even if we trust that the German government does not
actually mean to say that economy is four times more important than health and eight times
more than either education or research, however, there is little doubt that this bias to economic
policy issues does say something about how the German government defines the role of the
Journal of Organizational Change
Vol. 32 No. 6, 2019
Received 24 October 2018
Revised 12 April 2019
Accepted 25 August 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
German state and observes the German society; and there is no doubt that the German gaze on
economy is not necessarily typical of all governments in the rest of the World.
In this paper, we investigate how important different policy issues aretodifferentnational
governments at the level of the design of cabinet portfolios. Unlike earlier research on salience in
acabinetdesigncontext,ourfocusisnotontheimportance of individual ministers as expressed
by the length of ministerial tenure (Berlinski et al., 2007; Scharfenkamp, 2018), the subjective
value different parties place on different portfolios(Laver,1985),onpolicyimpactsofcabinetsize
(Bandyopadhyay and Oak, 2008), or the distribution of cabinet positions among partners in
coalition governments along the lines of preconceived ministry prestige rankings (Druckman and
Roberts, 2008; Druckman and Warwick, 2005; Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson, 2009).
Rather, we are interested in policy issue salience as expressed by the number of ministries that
address political, economic, scientific, educational, health and further policy issues, and we trust
that the resulting policy issue salience profiles are informative both for individual governments
and for international comparative research. Inconcreteterms,ourresearchquestionis:
RQ1. How much value national governments worldwide place on political, economic,
scientific, artistic, religious, legal, sportive, health-related, educational and mass
This question is relevant because recent big data research (Roth, Clark, Trofimov,
Mkrtichyan, Heidingsfelder, Appignanesi, Pérez-Valls, Berkel and Kaivo-oja, 2017; Roth et al.,
2018) has suggested that the importance of these issues may be subject to change throughout
the decades and centuries and not in line with commonly held expectations about the over-
average significance of economic issues.
In order to find out how important individual policy issues are for individual governments,
we first suggest thinking of governments as organizations in general and polyphonic
organizations in particular. We then build on groundwork that combined the concept of
polyphonic organization with key concepts of social systems theory (Luhmann, 2012, 2013a)
and recent developments in theories of social differentiation (Andersen, 2003; Andersen and
Born, 2000, 2007; Esmark, 2009; Roth, Sales and Kaivo-oja, 2017; Will et al., 2018; Valentinov
et al., 2018). Based on this extended concept of organizational polyphony, governments may be
understood as multifunctional organizations, i.e. organizations that can refer to and feature
distinctive biases to one or several of the probably ten function systems of society: economy,
health, science, education, art, law, religion, sport, mass media and, last not least, politics. We
then proceed to present the design and results of amultifunctionalanalysis of the ministerial
portfolio of a total of 201 national governments as at February 07, 2017. To this end, we draw on
Niklas Luhmann’stheoryofsocialdifferentiationingeneral and of functional differentiation in
particular so as to identify the function systemic orientation(s) of the individual ministerial
portfolios. As our results indicate that the majority of governments worldwide massively
over-allocate their attention to political and economic issues, we conclude that this strong bias
likely translates into dysfunctional governance at both the national and supra-national level.
This assumption is buttressed by the circumstance that a narrow policy focus on political and
economic issues foils recent attempts to challenge and redefine dated concepts of progress and
well-being and to develop more comprehensive, multi-dimensional indicator systems such as the
OECD Framework for Measuring Well-Being and Progress or the Happy Planet Index. Against
the background of these ambitions, a strong bias economy bias that comes at the expense of a
sometimes perplexingly weak significance or even complete ignorance of other systems would
be indeed highly problematic.
2. Theoretical background: governments as multifunctional organizations
In organization theory, governments belong to the foundational examples of organizations
(Selznick, 1948), and there is also little doubt that governments are political organizations.
Although otherwise known for his often-counterintuitive approach to society in general and
organizations in particular, Niklas Luhmann also held governments to be organizations of
the political subsystem of society.
In this section, we shall first introduce and then challenge the idea that governments are
organizations of the political system, before we go on to characterize governments as
Governments as organizations
Rossbach, 1997; Hernes and Bakken, 2003; Luhmann, 2003, 2005a, b; Hernes and Weik, 2007;
Kuhn, 2008; Schoeneborn, 2011; van Assche et al., 2012, 2014; Blaschke et al., 2012; Collm and
Schedler, 2014; Schoeneborn and Sandhu, 2014; Valentinov et al., 2018; Will et al., 2018). These
“organizations consist of decisions”(Nassehi, 2005, p. 186) and not of humans, people or actors.
They do not even consist of decisions made by humans, people or actors, because decisions are
particular types of communication and therefore systematically transcend the motives or
behaviors of participants in communication. Whereas the presence or absence of participants in
communication is critical in defining the demarcation and continuance of interactions, decision
communication is defined as communication that communicates its own contingency as all
decision communication implies the communication of excluded alternatives. Decisions about
interactions are therefore completely different from interactions about decisions, and strictly
speaking there are no interactions in organizations as organizations consist of decisions and
Organizations appear if we observe chains of decision communications rather than chains of
individual behaviors. Without any need for reference to other forms of communication or much
less to the role of individual participants, Luhmann argues that organizations as autopoietic
systems of decision communication emerge because the more decisions are communicated the
more alternatives are communicated, too, and the more alternatives are communicated, the less
justified is a made decision for one out of an ever-growing multitude of alternatives. In this way,
decision communication creates a self-amplifying drift to ever-more decision communication.
Once made, however, past decisions can also guide further decisions and thus function as
decision premise. This guidance absorbs the insecurity that is often observed to result from
the ultimately contingent nature of every decision. Open contingency is transformed into
fixed contingency (Pors and Andersen, 2015). The longer the chain of decisions, the harder it
is to observe the entire chain, and the bigger the need and challenge to filter out the
particularly instructive decisions or sequences of decisions. The linking of in principal
always contingent decisions soon creates self-legitimated, self-sustained and idiosyncratic
structures made of decisions and only of decisions which we may refer to as organizations
(Rodriguez et al., 2018).
True to Luhmann (2003, 2005), organizations feature four basic forms of fixed contingency
referred to as decision premises: personnel, communication channels, programs and
organizational culture. Whereas personnel decisions are membership-related decisions
regarding the recruitment or re-/allocation of persons to positions, the design of organizational
communication channels defines where positions are located in the organizational architecture
of information flows. Decision programs are installed to check whether decisions are made
properly. “Luhmann distinguishes two different types of programmes depending on whether
they are oriented towards input or output. ‘Goal programmes’are those which take a
particular systemic response as invariant and accordingly select ‘causes’that bring it about.
Conditional programmes hold constant particular ‘causes’which, whenever they occur, trigger
a particular type of action”(Brans and Rossbach, 1997, p. 423; see also Verhoest et al., 2004).
Last not least, organizational culture refers to those premises that remain inaccessible for
decision such as foundational decisions or organizational routines.
Although particularly the latter two forms of decision premises are critical for our research on
indented or unintended observational biases that governments have to decisions on particular
policy issues and the corresponding function systems, a mere definition of governments as
organization is not yet enough to characterize governments as specific organizations as
compared to, e.g. firms, schools or hospitals. We therefore need to also speak about the
differences that make the difference between these different social systems.
Organization and social differentiation
Organizations such as firms, schools or hospitals obviously have different functions for society.
The differentiation of functions, however, is a relatively recent form of social differentiation
(Dunsire, 1996; Andersen, 2005; Rennison, 2007; van Assche and Verschraegen, 2008; Esmark,
2009, 2018; Peña, 2015). Roth, Sales and Kaivo-oja (2017) have recently suggested that Luhmann
has implicitly combined two foundational sociological distinctions –similar vs dissimilar and
equal vs unequal –in order to distinguish “initially three (Luhmann, 1977, p. 32ff) and later four
basic forms of social differentiation (Luhmann, 2013a, p. 12f ).”The result of this exercise is
present in Table I.
The authors then follow Luhmann in stating that segmentation, i.e. the distinction of
similar and equal subsystems such as families or tribes, is probably the oldest form of social
differentiation. They give examples of how segmentation works and go on to show that
centralization or stratification overruled the principles of segmentation in the formation of
Ancient Civilizations or Middle Age caste or feudal systems. In the transition to modern
society, these forms of social differentiation were again superposed by functional
differentiation, which refers to the distinction of dissimilar yet equal subsystems. Thus,
functional differentiation constitutes one out of four distinct forms of social differentiation.
Moreover, functional differentiation is the most recent form of social differentiation, and
therefore often considered to the form that is typically modern society (Brans and Rossbach,
1997; Andersen, 2005; Esmark, 2009, 2018; van Assche et al., 2014; Valentinov, 2015; Andersen
and Pors, 2016; Will et al., 2018).
A typically modern trait is hence that a functionally differentiated society does not
feature any form of built-in preference for one particular function system:
Since all functions have to be fulfilled and are the necessary interdependent, society itself cannot
give functional primacy to one of them; it has to use a second level of subsystem-building to
institutionalize a primacy of specific functions for a special set of system/environment relations.
Salient examples are the political function of providing for collectively binding decisions, the
economic function of securing want satisfaction within enlarged time horizons, and the religious
function of interpreting the incomprehensible. (Luhmann, 1977, p. 35)
Thus, it is precisely because modern society does not have a default preference for a
particular function system that we can observe ever-changing trends in the salience of
function systems in modern society (Roth, Sales and Kaivo-oja, 2017; Roth et al., 2018) and
hence in modern organization.
From a differentiation-theoretical perspective, the observation of a government as a
political organization, a firm as an economic organization or a school as an educational
Similar +Segmentation (families, tribes, nations, etc.) Centralization (civilizations, empires, etc.)
−Functional differentiation (economy, science, art, etc.) Stratification (castes, estates, classes, etc.)
Source: (Roth, Sales and Kaivo-oja, 2017, p. 197)
organization is the result of a combined observation of segmentation and functional
differentiation. Organizations are segments of decision communication and as such both
similar and equal to other organizations. In order to observe dissimilarity or inequality, we
need to combine the observation of organizational segments with the observation of other
forms of social differentiation. For example, we may find that some organizations are
characterized by a hierarchical, stratified organizational structure, whereas the structure of
other organizations rather resembles networks of more or less de-/centralized communication.
If we observe organization through the lens of functional differentiation, we find that the
dominant idea is that organizations are tightly coupled to or predominately form within only
one function system (Esmark, 2009, p. 368). Luhmann does not precisely exclude the option of
organizations without clear function system reference, and yet he considers this option a rare
case rather than the standard case of organization (Luhmann, 2005b, p. 280; see also Knudsen,
2017, p. 21). This idea has been substantially challenged with specific focus on public
governance (Andersen, 2005; Rennison, 2007;Esmark,2009),andmoregenerallybyworkson
polyphonic organizations (Andersen, 2003; Andersen and Born, 2007; Thygesen and Andersen,
2007; Knudsen, 2015, 2017; Knudsen and Vogd, 2015; La Cour and Højlund, 2017) that extended
the original concept of organizational polyphony beyond the focus on the rediscovery of
systematically silenced voices of members with certain cultural, racial or gender-profiles (Hazen,
1993, 1994, 2006; Kornberger et al., 2006; Sullivan and McCarthy, 2008; Belova, 2010) to now also
include the dimension of functional polyphony. True to Andersen (2003), all organizations may
be divided in homophonic and polyphonic organizations. “Ahomophonicorganizationisone
that has a primary codification, which regulates the relevance of codifications”(164); by
contrast, “an organisation is polyphonic when it is connected to several function systems
without a predefined primary function system”(167). In this context, Andersen observes a
recent trend to more functional polyphony, and Andersen and Born (2007) have even identified
important for the respective organization. From this, and in the light of the observation that the
perceived importance of function systems is subject to regular change even at the level of
large-scale social systems (Roth, Clark, Trofimov, Mkrtichyan, Heidingsfelder, Appignanesi,
Pérez-Valls, Berkel and Kaivo-oja, 2017), Will et al.(2018)haverecentlyconcludedthatall
organizations are multifunctional, i.e. that all forms of organization “serve as “transmission
links”between the functional systems”(Rennison, 2007, p. 151) and therefore are, in principle,
able to adapt their function system preferences to changing organizational requirements and
environments. This option also includes the conversion of former non-profit organizations into
for-profit organizations, or vice versa (Will et al., 2018).
In this paper, we combine the ideas of organizational heterophony and multifunctionality
to develop a research design that allows for a functional profiling of organizations in general
and governments in particular.
Governments as multifunctional organizations
If we define governments as multifunctional organizations, we need to admit that strictly
speaking Luhmann hardly spoke of governments asorganizations.Thismightbeduetothefact
that the term government also plays a prominent role as one side of the code of the political
function system, which is government/opposition.Infact,thiswordingisuntypicalascompared
to the designation of the codes of other functionsystemssuchastrue/untrueforscienceor
immanent/transcendent for religion and has therefore been disputed and challenged even by
Luhmann (2000, p. 88) himself, who brought an alternative code –superior/inferior –into play.
This issue notwithstanding,Luhmann spoke of the “machinery of government”(Luhmann,
2013a, p. 68) in ways that suggest he nonetheless conceived of governments as organizations.
Governments have departments (Luhmann, 2013b) and budgets (Luhmann, 2013a, p. 111) and
often also debts (id., 235). Sometimes, Luhmann (2015, p. 28) also compares governmental
organizations and administrative organizations, which is only consequential as governments
obviously do make decisions (Luhmann, 2019, p. 401).
For us, the critical difference to Luhmann is that we do not contain governments
exclusively within the political system. Governments strategically use money or laws (Brans
and Rossbach, 1997, p. 430), and not least in view of said governmental budgets and debts, we
wish to leave open the possibility that governments could follow non-political logics more
often than political ones. As much as we can imagine a firm dominated by micro-politics or a
hospital dominated by economic rationality, our approach therefore does not exclude the
option that, for example, economic constraints and issues regularly prevail in what officially is
a political decision-making process, and that we may consequently wonder whether such an
economy-biased decision-making process is still a political one, or whether an organization
formally called government can also gradually turn into a corporation.
In this sense, our multifunctional perspective allows for a systematic scanning of
governmental function system preferences that avoids the foregone conclusion that all
governments principally are political organizations.
3. Operationalization: a multifunctional spyhole to 201 governments
In view of the large number of governments worldwide, as a first approximation to the
above multifunctional scanning of governments, we decided to focus on national
governments and to use the design of cabinet portfolios as a first proxy for the function
system preferences or biases featured by individual governments.
We started from the assumption that governments are multifunctional organizations. In
the light of the principle equivalence of the function systems (Knudsen, 2011, p. 128; Wetzel
and Van Gorp, 2014, p. 121; Peña, 2015, p. 58), the null hypothesis would therefore be
.Governments consider all function systems to be of equal value and therefore exhibit
a uniform distribution of ministries per each of the function systems: politics, science,
law, economy, religion, art, health, education, sport and mass media.
As we can expect governments to feature a certain politics bias, however, we modified H
insofar that we took it for normal that governments display an overrepresentation of
ministries devoted to political issues.
Our alternative hypothesis, therefore, was that:
H1. National governments display unequal distributions of ministries devoted to the ten
As we furthermore intended to check whether functional differentiation is an adequate
framework for a comparative analysis of national governments, we also looked into the
proportion of ministries with clear function system reference(s) as compared to ministries with
ambiguous or absent function system references. Our complementary alternative hypothesis,
therefore, suggests that:
H2. Most cabinet member designations show a clear reference to one or more function
In light of the assumption that functional differentiation is a typical feature of modern
societies, in line with prevailing prejudices, we therefore assumed that the number of cabinet
member designations with clear function system reference(s) in countries belonging to the
so-called developed world is higher than that in the case of governments of emerging or
In order to test our hypotheses, we used data from the US Central Intelligence
Agency directory of Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments as per
February 02, 2017 (available at www.cia.gov/library/publications/world-leaders-1/). This
directory lists members of “as many governments of the world as is considered practical, some
of them not officially recognized by the USA”and is, consequently, very comprehensive. To
this data we added the corresponding information of the US government and from which we
deleted information on non-cabinet members and institutions such as ambassadors or
directors of central banks. We thus compiled a list of 4,763 ministries containing country
names, designation of ministries or equivalent subdivisions of the national government
including presidents, vice-presidents, prime ministers and similar positions.
We then proceeded to code the designations of the chiefs of state and cabinet members in
line with our multifunctional framework.
The coding was conducted as follows: a president or prime minister position was coded
as “politics”as was a ministry of defense or civil service and administrative reform;
ministries of finance, trade, commerce, economic development or economy were coded as
“economy”; ministries of education or sport as “education or sport,”etc. In this context,
multiple coding was possible as, for example, in the case of a ministry for “National
Education, Teaching, Research and Arts.”
In order to manage coding ambiguity, we labeled ministries such as those of internal or
foreign affairs as “politics2”as these ministries clearly have a strong political orientation and
yet often also have non-political missions. We also coded the many ministries of resources
such as oil or natural resources and even those of labor or agriculture as “economy2”so as to
enable us to subtract these potentially ambiguous ministries in the context of the testing of
H2. This coding exercise was a rather challenging one: a ministry of industry is relatively
clearly related to the economy. The same holds true for a ministry of mining industry and
probably also for a ministry of forestry, whereas the economy-focus of a ministry of forests
might be less apparent, especially if forests are combined with environment or ecology. In a
similar way, a ministry of energy industry features a stronger economic connotation as
compared to a ministry of energy and water, the latter of which apparently has a stronger
infrastructure focus. But then again, how about a ministry of water resources, in which case
the term resource carries the notion of a strategic management of potential scarcity, and thus a
clear economic connotation? Inthis sense, we coded as “economy2”ministries that displayed a
focus on the strategic management of basic needs or resources such as food, gas or labor “to
ensure future supply under conditions of scarcity”(Luhmann, 2013a, p. 96). Ministries with an
even more straightforward economy-focus such as those of economy, finance, trade,
commerce, or industry were coded as “economy.”This distinction corresponds largely to
Luhmann’s (2013a, p. 96) distinction between the performance (economy2) and the function
(economy) of the economy, to which we add the third category of “economy3”for ministries
explicitly and exclusively (or in combination with non-economic functions) devoted to natural
resources, the environment or ecological issues, and therefore concerned with second-order
scarcity-observations against the background of the well-known limits to natural resources
and economic growth. A code splitting approach was also chosen in the case of ministries of
culture, which were coded as “art2”because although ministries of culture definitely often
have a strong art focus, the term culture is just as often used to include religious or educational
as well as non-function system-related issues. In all these cases of code splitting, we avoided
multi-allocation of codes from one code family: e.g. a ministry of industry and mines was
coded once as “economy”(for industry) and twice as “economy”and “economy2,”or a
ministry of water resources and the environment as “economy2”and not also as “economy3.”
Ministries without any function system reference were allocated to the residual category
“residual.”Given the complexity of the matter, the coding was conducted in several rounds
until emerging issues were addressed to the satisfaction of the co-authors.
After the coding process, all codes from individual ministries were summed up as a
country ×function matrix, in which all 201 different countries were represented as rows and
the different governmental functions were represented as columns (i.e. art/art2, economy/
economy2/economy3, education, health, law, mass media, politics/politics2, religion, science,
sport and residual for the residual categories). In addition, economy_sum, politics_sum and
art_sum were calculated by summing the subcategories within these particular functions. If a
minister had a multifunctional role, each role was added to the country-level summary matrix.
According to Kolmogorov–Smirnov and Shapiro–Wilk tests,all our governmental function
variables clearly violated normal distribution assumptions. Therefore, a non-parametric
Friedman test was carried out to compare whether countries are following equal or unequal
distributions of resources between different governmentfunctions. Furthermore, absolute and
relative mean, min and max values for each function system were calculated as well as
absolute median and standard deviation values.
4. Results: the business of governance worldwide
The absolute distribution of the number of ministries by the main government functions
In all our data set included 201 countries which altogether had 4,763 different ministers and,
due the multi-coded ministries, 5,255 different ministry functions. Table II presents absolute
and relative mean, median, min and max values as well as absolute standard deviation
values for the number of government ministries by the defined government functions.
Based on our global analysis of median cabinet portfolio structures, a typical government
comprises 24 ministries whose functional structure is divided as follows: the most dominant
functions are politics (pol_sum) and economy (eco_sum), each with 7 ministries. In terms of
relative share, these two functions cover over 60 percent of all ministries worldwide. For most
of the remaining government functions, the absolute median value is 1. The least popular
government function is religion as the only function having 0 absolute median value. The
residual categoryof ministries without function system reference (res) has an absolute median
value of 2 and a relative share of less than 11 percent. In brief terms, we may conclude that a
typical portfolio comprises 7 politics-oriented ministries, 7 economy-oriented ministries
including 3–4 resource-specific ministries (economy2/E2) and 1 ministry ofenvironmental and
Absolute Relative % share
Government function Mean Median SD Min. Max. Mean Median Min. Max.
Grand total 26.144 24 10.220 7 85
POL_SUM 8.224 7 4.695 2 56 31.85 30.77 16.67 100.00
Politics 6.507 6 4.538 1 54 24.73 23.08 6.67 83.33
Politics2 1.716 2 0.620 0 4 7.12 6.67 0.00 28.57
ECO_SUM 7.597 7 3.327 0 21 28.79 29.51 0.00 45.83
Economy 3.284 3 1.742 0 15 12.66 12.50 0.00 26.32
Economy2 3.766 4 2.156 0 12 13.94 13.89 0.00 28.57
Economy3 0.547 1 0.556 0 2 2.19 2.00 0.00 14.29
RES 3.025 2 2.483 0 19 10.76 10.26 0.00 28.79
Education 1.448 1 0.937 0 7 5.57 5.00 0.00 14.58
Law 1.184 1 0.749 0 5 4.66 4.35 0.00 18.52
Mass_Media 1.114 1 0.789 0 4 4.18 4.35 0.00 13.33
Health 1.030 1 0.330 0 4 4.34 4.17 0.00 14.29
ART_SUM 0.826 1 0.441 0 2 3.37 3.57 0.00 14.29
Art2 0.711 1 0.506 0 2 2.98 3.33 0.00 14.29
Art 0.114 0 0.319 0 1 0.39 0.00 0.00 5.26
Science 0.731 1 0.646 0 3 2.74 3.13 0.00 10.00
Sport 0.701 1 0.480 0 2 2.66 3.03 0.00 10.00
Religion 0.264 0 0.604 0 4 1.09 0.00 0.00 50.00
ecological issues (economy3/E3), no ministry for religious issues (rel), and 1 ministry each for
the remaining functions: education (edu), law, mass media (med), health (hea), art (mainly in
the form of art2/A2, i.e. ministries of culture), science (sci) and sport (spo) (see Figure 1).
In a typical government, the government functions are almost always based on single
roles (i.e. according to our classification ministry had only one function system code). The
median value for single role ministries was 23, which represents a 91.67 percent relative
share median value. The median value for double role ministries was 2, which represents an
8.00 percent relative median value. Triple and quadruple ministry roles are rare, and for
both of them absolute median value is 0. Relative share mean value comparison represents a
0.95 percent share for triple roles and 0.14 percent share for quadruple roles.
A non-parametric Friedman test was carried out to compare which government function had
equal or unequal amounts of ministers. In Figure 2, a network image is presented in which the
links between the nodes (i.e. government functions) illustrate the equal amounts of ministers.
It appears that the politics_sum function (30.77 percent relative share median value) had
equal amounts of ministers with economy_sum (29.51 percent) function. As a result, it is evident
that the different government functions indeed are not equally valued, since political and
economy functions are overwhelming all other government functions. However, there seems to
be a balance between political and economy functions when these are reviewed as a sum
function. Nevertheless, the subcategory-level analysis of the political and economy functions
revealed a somewhat different strategy between these two main government functions.
In the case of the politics_sum function politics2 (6.67 percent) subcategories which
included internal or foreign affair ministries was significantly less dominant than the politics
(23.08 percent) function. The economy_sum functions was constructed based on three
different subcategories in which the economy (12.25 percent) and economy2 (13.89 percent)
were considered as equally important while economy3 (2.00 percent) had only low presence.
Economy Figure 1.
Cabinet portfolio of a
based on the median
numbers of ministries
per function system
within our sample of
Residual (10.26 percent) category of ministries without (clear) function system reference was
considered equally important with economy, economy2 and politics2 sub-functions.
Most of the remaining –less popular –government functions were considered equally
important (i.e. there are few unequal functions, which can be detected in the Figure 1).
Education (5.00 percent) was the only remaining function having equal amounts of ministers
with politics2 function (6.67 percent). At the other end of the scale, art was the least dominant
function together with religion. For both of these, the relative share median value was 0.
As a result, we conclude that governments are over allocating political and economic
ministries to their cabinet portfolios. On other hand, the supposedly secondary government
functions are following somewhat equal resource distribution excluding a few exceptions
such as religion.
5. Discussion: society as national economy?
Our multifunctional cabinet portfolio analysis clearly suggests that the sample of 201
investigated national governments does not treat the actually incommensurable function
systems –politics, economy, science, art, religion, law, sport, health, education and mass
media –as equally important.
The data further show that these 201 governments do not only feature a strong bias to
ministries with political missions, but also an almost equally strong bias to economy-focused
ministries. Our null hypothesis H
is therefore rejected in both its original and modified forms.
Whereas we assumed a certain politics bias to be a normal feature of governmental
organizations, the significant economy bias is a result that not only corroborates our
alternative hypothesis H1, but also requires further and more fine-grained, country-level
research as to the reasons for a bias that is in sharp contrast to the increasing prominence of
ambitions to develop less economy-focused indicator systems for cross-country and cross-
governmental comparisons such as the OECD Framework for Measuring Well-Being and
Progress or the Happy Planet Index.
In looking at the less prominent function systems, a particularly striking result is the
surprisingly small value that governments seem to place on education and science. Although
education is the second-best scoring non-political function system after the economy, its score
is only 1/5 of that of the latter. This result is again in sharp contrast to the idea that education
Mass Media Science
Note: n= 201
having equal amount
is of critical importance for human development and well-being as indicated not least by the
prominence of educational factors in even more classical indicator systems such as the United
Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. Whereas our low results for
education may to some extent be relativized by the assumption that part of the educational
issues might be “covertly”covered by ministries such as those for internal affairs, this practice
is definitely less common for scientific issues, which turns the strikingly low performance of
science into an even stronger message particularly against the background of the great
importance that science and research is said to have not least to economic competitiveness of
national innovation systems (Fixari and Pallez, 2016).
Yet another issue may emerge from the observation that not only popular “partial
theories”(Karkatsoulis, 2000), definitions or labels of contemporary societies such that of a
capitalist society, but also that of an “information society”or “information age”(e.g. Castells,
1998) might be at odds with the actually low importance governments attach to economic or
mass media-related issues, respectively.
Last not least, one might observe a certain contradiction between the low performance of
religion and the current hype of religion as a supposed major source of political conflict
(#islamism). This contradiction could be resolved by the assumption that, especially in the
case of particularly religious countries, religion is actually hiding within the political
ministries if it were not for the fact that some of these particularly religious countries stand
out as those with a strong and explicit governmental focus on religion (with sometimes up to
50 percent of all ministries displaying an explicit religion focus).
In revisiting Table I, we also find that the data corroborates our complementary
alternative hypothesis H2, which suggested that a majority of ministerial designations
show a clear reference to at least one function system. In fact, only less than 11 percent of
all ministry designations do not refer to any function system at all. In other words, more
than 89 percent of all ministries do show a clear function system reference. This finding
suggests that, intentionally or not, functional differentiation does play a key role in
cabinet portfolio design all over the world. In fact, even the countries with the highest
shares of non-function systemic ministries (reaching up to 28.79 percent) still have a
majority of function system-focused ministries.
Limitations and future research avenues
One key limitation of our approach lies in the fact that our research was focused on national
governments. Our results therefore report only on the situation of national governments and
not of the entire political system of the respective countries. Within federalist systems,
certain functions such as educational responsibilities might be delegated to states or
provinces rather than being allocated at the national level. One future research avenue
therefore might be to check whether there is/are significant differences between the profiles
of countries with rather federalist and those with rather centralized governmental
structures. The circumstance that our focus on national governments may be considered a
serious limitation notwithstanding, we hold that our research design is adequate not least
because in the vast majority of cases it is national rather than subnational governments that
shape the face of global governance, i.e. the complex system of intergovernmental relations
that are expected to address a large scope of complex, large-scale and often urgent issues
ranging from global peacekeeping or the fight against hunger to issues of global health or
climate change. This still-emerging system of global governance is often observed to not
work efficiently (see Praeger. Coen and Pegram, 2015, p. 417). Whereas anti-globalization
movements are basically skeptical about the possibilities and purposes of global governance
per se (see e.g. Dingwerth and Pattberg, 2006; Lesage and Van de Graaf, 2015; Jones, 2018),
other scholars believe that global governance just needs to and can be improved, e.g. by
means of new smart tools and measures to deal with issues that impact communities
throughout the world (Held and Hale, 2011; Hale et al., 2013). Our present and subsequent
multifunctional analyses of current governance structures could therefore contribute to a
better understanding of the probably unconscious and potentially problematic assumptions
on which systems of national and global governance are built. In fact, a global governmental
bias to economic issues might not only conflict with ecological limits to growth (Valentinov,
2014a, b; Roth, 2017, 2019), but also with governance expectations of larger parts of the
world population in general and those who belong to so-called premodern or post-materialist
cultures in particular.
Current governments and cabinets give direct and indirect mandates to global
governance agencies. In this way, our analysis of 201 governments is a contribution for
ongoing global governance discussion. As we report in this paper, we revived the idea of
robust description of global government based on current median governance structures
(Downs, 1957; Rice, 1985). In the light of our multifunctional approach, this robust median
description of governance systems can now be based on new empirical data and thus
helps to develop alternative models of global governance. In this way, our multifunctional
approach to governance could also contribute to the old historical discussion of world
government (Einstein, 1956; Kant, 1991; Heater, 1996; Baratta, 2004; Marchetti, 2008;
Scheuerman, 2008; Weiss, 2009; Habermas, 2010).
Another promising research avenue would consist in checks of whether different country
groups such as the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Middle East or the
so-called developing or transition countries place different value on the different function
systems. These checks could be linked to a broad scope of research questions. For example, one
might ask whether governments ofcountrieswithhighvaluesinHofstededimensionslike
power distance or masculinity are more focused on power issues; whether the functional profile
of government portfolios differs significantly between the Huntington civilizations; whether the
majority of residual category ministries are established in governments of so-called developed
or developing countries; whether dictatorships differ significantly from democracies.
It could also be interesting to look at outlier countries with particularly strong biases to
specific function systems or constellations of function systems. For example, it is
interesting to note that the governments of two countries as different as Hungary and
North Korea have one thing in common: whereas the two governments differ greatly in
terms of cabinet size (Hungary: 11; North Korea: 84), in both cases the share of ministries
with designations referring to other than political or economic functions is strikingly low
(Hungary: 2; North Korea: 8). The two cabinet portfolios therefore reflect the lean and the
opulent versions of a government that observes its society almost exclusively through the
lens of political economy.
Finally, our focus on the design and distribution of government portfolios alone may
not necessarily be considered a good reflection of governmental attention to the function
systems and the corresponding policy issues. In fact, one may argue that it could be the
case for many governments that most budget is ultimately allocated to health- and
education-related issues, which would then contradict the idea that politics and economics
are in fact receiving greater attention. Yet, as it was the purpose of this study to examine
how much value national governments worldwide place on political, scientific, artistic,
religious, legal, sportive, health-related, educational, mass media-related and –last not
least –economic issues. In the context of such a research question, however, we cannot use
budgetary or other economic indicators to measure the relative importance of the just
mentioned list of function systems, which includes economy. In fact, such an approach
would already imply that we place higher value on economic than on any of the other
(policy) issues. This would result in economy-biased and probably even tautological
observations such as that most public money is spent on money-related –hence
6. Conclusions: outlook to governance beyond political economy
One major result of the research reported in this paper is that our sample of 201
governments apparently takes economic issues as 5–6 times more important than
educational, legal, mass media-related or health issues and ten more important than sport
or science. Religion and art are apparently completely unimportant to the governments of
the world unless we suspect the latter system to hide under the cover of ministries for
culture, in which case art would be again roughly as (un)important as sport or science.
Particularly the low value governments place on science thereby contradicts political
soap-box oratories as much as research that highlight at critical role of science for
national competitiveness in a global innovation and knowledge society. Even deliberately
political economy-oriented governments would therefore be well-advised to reconsider
their valuation of science.
Against this background, the German situation featured in the introduction of this
paper does not appear that perplexing anymore and rather seems to be a typical example
of a systematic and internationally prevalent governmental bias to economic issues. This
bias remains strong even if we exclude ministries such as those for agriculture, oil, mining
or fishery from the group of economy-focused ministries, in which case economy would
still appear to be 3 or 5 times more important to the governments of the world than the
Whether intended or not, this strong bias to the economy at the expense of a sometimes
perplexingly weak significance or even complete ignorance of other systems is problematic.
First, it mirrors the neglect of society in mainstream economic theories (Thompson and
Valentinov, 2017) and indicates a sharp contrast between the high value that both national
governments and intergovernmental organizations such as the UN (at least ostensibly) place
on those neglected non-political and non-economic function systems. In fact, the rise of these
international organization might even be interpreted as a direct consequence of national
governments ignoring most of the other function systems. Second, this striking economy-bias
is indicative of a hidden international consensus that states must be organized as public
enterprises, and countries governed as if they were national economies. Third, this hidden
consensus might be in sharp contrast to the actual importance that non-political and non-
economic issues have to larger parts of the world population (Roth, Clark, Trofimov,
Mkrtichyan, Heidingsfelder, Appignanesi, Pérez-Valls, Berkel and Kaivo-oja, 2017; Roth et al.,
2018), and therefore point to the risk that governments as systematically as unnoticeably
govern at cross purposes with actual policy challenges and citizen expectations.
The second major outcome of our research is that the vast majority of ministries
worldwide are focused on a considerable number of function systems. In fact, only little
more than 10 percent of all ministry denominations do not refer to one of the function
systems at all. This result would raise confidence that governments worldwide do match the
primary form of social differentiation of modern societies –if it were not again for the strong
economy bias that suggests that functional differentiation is still non-strategically and
probably even unknowingly applied in governmental contexts.
The third major implication is that our multifunctional snapshots of 201 governmental
organizations is fruitful because it constitutes an instructive and unpreceded government
profiling technique. As a matter of course, our multifunctional analysis will need to be
placed in broader historical contexts and applied with higher resolution and hence to
individual national governments or particular country groups. Even the distanced global
snapshot view, however, is already informative insofar as it reveals that our sample of 201
national governments is very strongly focused on the economy, and we may ask ourselves
how much this already significant overrepresentation of economic issues would still have to
increase before we start to wonder as to whether a government actually still is a national
government or yet a national corporation.
Whereas these results may paint a somewhat cheerless picture of the present state of
world governance, our research as well as the both multinational and multifunctional
framework in which it was conducted also opens up a space in which governments can
image and try alternative forms of governmental self-organization, and thus implement
modes of governance that create alternatives not least to capitalism and economic growth-
1. We are counting the Federal Ministries of Economic Affairs and Energy; for Economic
Cooperation and Development; of Food and Agriculture; and of Finance. Moreover, the Federal
Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection
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About the authors
Steffen Roth is Full Professor of Management at the La Rochelle Business School, France and Research
Professor of Digital Sociology at the Kazimieras Simonavičius University in Vilnius, Lithuania. He is
also Honorary Professor of Sociology at the Yerevan State University, Armenia. He holds a Habilitation
in Economic and Environmental Sociology awarded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University,
and Research; he has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Geneva and a PhD in Management
from the Chemnitz University of Technology. He is Associate Editor of Kybernetes and Field Editor for
Social Systems Theory of Systems Research and Behavioral Science. The journals his research has
been published in include Journal of Business Ethics,Journal of Cleaner Production,Administration and
Society,Technological Forecasting and Social Change,Journal of Organizational Change Management,
Journal of Economic Issues and Futures. His ORCID profile is available at orcid.org/0000-0002-8502-
601X. Steffen Roth is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: email@example.com
Teemu Santonen received his PhD in Information Systems Science from Aalto University in 2005
and is currently Principal Lecturer at the Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Finland. His research
foci are on innovation management, foresight and futures studies, social network analysis and
scientometrics. Prior to his academic career, he was Development Manager in leading Finnish financial,
media and ICT sector companies.
Maximilian Heimstädt is Postdoctoral Researcher in organization and strategy at Witten/Herdecke
University, Germany. He holds a PhD in organization theory from the Free University of Berlin,
Germany and has been Visiting Scholar at the Cornell University, USA. He is interested in processes of
institutional change and digital transformation, and his research has been published in journals such
as Public Administration Review,Cybernetics and Human Knowing and Technological Forecasting and
Carlton Clark is Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin –La Crosse, USA, where he is teaching and
doing research on fields such as Rhetoric and Composition, Hypertext Theory, and South American
Literature. He holds a PhD from Texas Woman’s University, USA.
Nikolay Trofimov is Senior Researcher at the Institute for the Study of Science of the Russian
Academy of Sciences, performing research in the field of science, technology and innovation.
Dr Jari Kaivo-oja is Research Director at the Finland Futures Research Centre of the Turku School of
Economics, University of Turku, as well as Adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki and at the
University of Lapland. He is Research Professor at the Kazimieras Simonavičius University in Vilnius,
Lithuania. He has worked for the European Commission (FP5-FP7 and Horizon 2020), the European
Foundation, the Nordic Innovation Center (NIC), the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and
Innovation (TEKES), EUROSTAT, RAND Europe, the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF
and for the European Parliament. Currently Dr Jari Kaivo-oja is Researcher at RISCAPE (Horizon 2020),
at EL-TRAN (the Academy of Finland) and at MANUFACTURING 4.0 (the Academy of Finland). His
research was published in journals such as Technological Forecasting and Social Change,Kybernetes,
Sustainability,Journal of Cleaner Production,International Journal of Technology Management,European
Journal of Futures Research,Long Range Planning,Foresight,Energy Policy and Futures.
Arthur Atanesyan is Full Professor and Head of the Applied Sociology Department at the Yerevan
State University, Armenia. He holds a PhD in Political Sciences from the Armenian NationalAcademy of
Sciences and a habilitation from the Armenian Institute of National Strategic Studies. He was Fulbright
Scholar at the University of South Caroline, USA, and Visiting Scholar at the Tufts University, USA.
Balazs Laki is Managing Partner at Basilicon, a boutique consulting company maintaining
international presence in three continents. He was Senior Counselor of the Hungarian Ministry for
National Economy and he holds a PhD in innovation policy from Tilburg University, The Netherlands.
Augusto Sales is Partner and Head of the KPMG Global Strategy Group in Brazil. He holds Master
degrees from ESADE Business School, Spain and Georgetown University, USA, and currently pursues
a DBA at the Rennes School of Business, France.
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