Reframing Public Finance: Promoting Justice, Democracy, and Human Rights in Government Budgets

February 2019 | by Paolo de Renzio and Jason Lakin, International Budget Partnership

Current approaches to public finance and government budgets, with their narrow focus on macroeconomic stability and economic growth, have fallen short in responding to citizens’ needs and promoting socioeconomic development that benefits all. The limitations of these approaches, and their consequences, can be summarized as follows:

  • An overemphasis on fiscal discipline and economic growth relative to equity and service delivery.
  • Skewed distribution of costs and benefits.
  • Limited space for citizen involvement and broad debate and deliberation.
  • An overly technical approach to budget reforms.

The confluence of these factors contributes not only to growing levels of inequality and to persistent poverty and exclusion, but also to people’s growing disaffection with governments, with whom they feel little connection and on whom they are able to exert limited influence.

This paper outlines the elements of a proposal to reframe debates around public finance and government budgets, drawing on the inter-related concepts of justice, democracy, and human rights, and putting more emphasis on issues of equity, sustainability, effectiveness and inclusion. The authors address some of the shortcomings of current approaches and propose a more solid, normative foundation on which public finance decisions can be assessed and taken.



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Paolo de Renzio

Senior Research Fellow, International Budget Partnership

Paolo de Renzio joined the International Budget Partnership in October 2010 as Senior Research Fellow and is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His research agenda covers a broad range of topics, including budget transparency and accountability, equity and justice in budgeting, taxation and tax expenditures, among others. He also supports the team producing the Open Budget Survey. Prior to joining the IBP, Paolo worked as a Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute; as an economist and policy advisor in Papua New Guinea’s Ministry of Finance; and as a UNDP public sector specialist, lecturer, and independent consultant in Mozambique. He has been a consultant for the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Commission, and for a number of bilateral donor agencies and international NGOs. Paolo holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Oxford, where his research focused on the impact of donor policies on budget reforms in developing countries. He also holds an MSc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from ‘Bocconi’ in Milan, Italy.

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