Centralised Control of National Government Spending

Centralised control of national government spending might appear to support efficiency and the common good, but it often works badly. 

There are several examples of politicians and political systems taking the centralised approach:

●  In what has been described as Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year war on local government, “The British prime minister’s legacy was increased centralisation and the willingness of her successors to control local democracy”. This was politically motivated: “many Labour council leaders saw themselves as warriors against the Conservative government – she certainly wanted to neutralise them”.  The policy made her more powerful.

●  Autocrats also exert tight control over government spending, partly to enrich those who support them.

●  Communist parties exercise centralised control of national government spending in the name of the common good. Millions of people found Marxism attractive.  The results, however, were often damaging in practice.  A BBC article, China anniversary: How the Communist Party runs the country, quotes an example:

“Under its founder Mao, the Communist Party ran a totalitarian socialist state.

China was poor when Mao took control in 1949 – and his attempts to industrialise its largely rural and agrarian economy proved disastrous. The result was a famine, which killed tens of millions of people.”

The common factor in these examples is that centralised control makes political leaders powerful.  It can theoretically offer collective benefits: better co-ordination, coherence, economies of scale and consistency of treatment.  That requires a considerable multi-layered bureaucracy to make it work and it cannot respond quickly to people’s needs.  As described below (, localised control is more responsive and efficient – although that has its own problems.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3451.htm