On Republic Day 2020, Archbishop Gordon examined our oscillating five-year cycle of viral racism from plantocracy to pandemic and unearthed a visceral dread of exclusion from the patrimony of the state as a probable cause. From behind the outward, he questioned whether the problem was in fact endemic xenophobia or one of envy and equality stemming from how people experience themselves and their connection to the Republic.
He argued that the people must evolve the Republic and the structures that hold it together just as the model bequeathed to us by Westminster has progressed in Whitehall. England is not a Republic. However, the ascendancy of the legislature as a political and fiscal institution was vital to the shift from a monarchy to a democracy. The independent exercise of the “power of the purse” was a primary anchor of the legislature’s emerging role in governance. Determining the allocation of resources among competing claims was critical to establishing the legitimacy of the legislature as an institution competing with the crown.
The root of the liability to envy is jammed between the absence of self-confidence in our own self-worth and a sense of impotence, resulting in a life without zest. Then there are those who are certain of their plan of life and their ability. It is impossible to divest ourselves of our interests and fashion the world afresh. So, the more specific problem for political justice is how pervasive are the hostility and envy aroused by the quest for office and position, and whether it is likely to distort the justice of institutions.
Today, the UK public spending framework includes forecasting an annual managed expenditure (AME). Departmental expenditure limits (DEL) are set for three-year periods in a spending review (SR). HM Treasury has a constitutional role in controlling public expenditure, and government departments need Treasury consent before undertaking expenditure or committing to spending. All legislation that affects spending must have the support of the Treasury before it is introduced. Policy decisions with financial implications must be cleared with the Treasury before they gain approval by the Cabinet.
During the 20th century, legislatures everywhere met novel tests in asserting their influence in budget formulation. The growth of government, the increased technical complexity of forecasting and the expansion of bureaucracy served to solidify executive responsibilities for budgets. In some jurisdictions, legislatures delegated powers to the executive, distrustful of their own instincts to favour particular constituency-based policies at the expense of the broader fiscal wellbeing of the nation state.
In Sweden, a pioneer of top-down budgeting, the State Budget Act of 1996 allows the executive to propose expenditure ceilings to parliament that become binding for the years beyond the budget year. The Swedish parliament approves an aggregate multi-year expenditure ceiling prior to approving the detailed annual budget. Similarly, the US Congress approves a budget resolution containing five-year macro fiscal targets and overarching ceilings for discretionary appropriations, although the appropriation ceilings are only binding for one year.
In the Netherlands, a medium-term fiscal framework is negotiated and becomes the overarching guidance for subsequent legislative consideration of the budget and appropriations. It is also the case that one house can have a political standing that is different from that of the government’s majority. The upper house in Australia and Germany have different electoral constituencies and cycles that can lead to control by parties outside of the majority government.
Budget systems reflect the power structure, history and the distinctive socioeconomic backgrounds of each state. Every year, an Appropriations Bill is piloted through the parliament. But this serious law requires only a simple majority to be approved, and not a single clause can be defeated in either house. This renders many representative governments to be little more than a shallow form of mass democracy in which the outer forms of popular power contrast with the inner forms of control by political elites. In effect, the government is taking a Bill to itself. Not the people, nor the parliament. There is no communitarian consensus. Yet we vaunt public reasoning by open citizenry to be a central feature of the good polity that attracts agreement on the basis of values that others can reasonably be expected to endorse.
Deliberative democracy rests on the belief that the policy process must be reformed by opening it up to a wider range of deliberative sources and by forcing elected policy makers to account publicly for their decisions to hear or mute varying voices. Parliamentary governments like many of the classic types of majoritarianism, especially those formed on the basis of British styled electoral processes, have a demonstrated tendency to exaggerate the parliamentary representation of the majority political party and to reduce the parliamentary representation of other participants well below their proportion of the vote.
Justice does not require men to stand idly by while others destroy the basis of their existence. Justice is overstepped whenever equal liberty is denied without reason. There is no need to explain why we are to comply with just laws. The real question is under which circumstances and to what extent we are bound to comply with unjust arrangements.