New Public Management and the Politics of Government Budgeting

Joanne Kelly, John Wanna


The ‘guardian-spender’ framework formulated by Aaron Wildavsky has defined the way in which most political scientists think about government budgeting since it first appeared in 1964 (Wildavsky 1975; Green and Thompson 1999). Wildavsky argued that budgetary outcomes could be explained (or at least analyzed) by focusing on the interplay of budget actors performing the highly stylized institutional roles of guardian (of the public purse) and spender. This behavioral framework proved sufficiently flexible to account for the differences in budgetary performance across different political systems (see studies by Savoie 1990; Heclo and Wildavsky 1974; Wildavsky 1986); as well as explaining the impact of budgetary reform and divergent economic environments on budget politics (Caiden and Wildavsky 1974; Wildavsky 1975). Reference to ‘guardians’ and ‘spenders’ still pervades discussions of government budgeting in the academic literature of political science and economics (Campos and Pradhan 1997), and has become accepted as conventional descriptions by practitioners in national governments and international bodies (such as the OECD, World Bank and the IMF).

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