3.3.9 Economic Accountability
Politicians cannot avoid economic accountability to the public; they want to claim successes, but they ought not to be able to avoid blame.
It is a fundamental human need to have a roof over one’s head and enough to eat. These are basic needs that people expect governments to protect, as described in the last chapter (2.1). At the very least, people want to avoid economic insecurity – but more than that, they want a feeling of economic well-being. If they don’t feel good about the way the economy is being run, they will seek an alternative government. Politicians’ desire to please people is an incentive to them to run the economy well.
People perceive the government to be responsible for economic performance, whether it is doing well or badly.
Politicians hold some important levers of economic power, as described previously:
● They are responsible for the framework of economic regulation (3.3.1).
● They control a country’s macroeconomics: the management of taxation, government spend and inflation (3.3.8).
The government is not responsible for external shocks, though. For example, the Ukraine war is economic catastrophe, warns World Bank. People can accept that politicians could not totally insulate the economy from such shocks, but governments are exposed to criticism when an economy is doing worse than elsewhere. They might nonetheless try to avoid economic accountability. For example, the BBC reported on misleading claims made by the UK government in April 2023 – showing the inconsistencies:
“Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says Britain’s economy is “back”, and that his strategy for growth has been welcomed at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington.”
“..However, the latest figures show the UK economy failed to grow in February.
On Wednesday, the IMF said it expected the UK economy to shrink by 0.3% in 2023, which would make it one of the worst performing of the world’s major economies.”
The following sub-sections explore the political pressure to perform well and the techniques for dodging blame:
● The pressure on politicians to perform competently (188.8.131.52) stems from their need for popular support. People’s desire for economic well-being is arguably the strongest factor in their attitudes towards a government.
● Politicians also try to avoid blame, or to claim success by misleading people. They are helped in this by people’s lack of understanding of economic matters (184.108.40.206).
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/edition04/339b.htm.