Administration Versus Politics in Theories of Democratic Budgeting

37 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2019

See all articles by Richard E. Wagner

Richard E. Wagner

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 8, 2019


All but one American state has some constitutional requirement for a balanced budget but few of them operate this way. Moreover, in 1979 the federal government enacted a public law that required a balanced budget by 1982. The law has not been repealed but neither have budgets become balanced. These observations point toward a dichotomy within the theory of democratic budgeting. One side of this dichotomy treats budgeting as an administrative matter of selecting rules for rational action. The other side recognizes that democratic budgeting has political character that cannot be reduced wholly to self-enforcing rules. Personal budgeting is a simple matter of individual rationality. In contrast, democratic budgeting entails interaction among individuals, and that interaction is not readily reducible to individual rationality. At this point, democratic budgeting butts against Carl Schmitt’s (1932) recognition of the autonomy of the political within society.

Keywords: budgetary process; administrative rules; autonomy of the political; choice vs. interaction; exit vs. voice; systems theory; action level vs. system level

JEL Classification: D72, D78, E62, H61, P16

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Richard E., Administration Versus Politics in Theories of Democratic Budgeting (February 8, 2019). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 19-03. Available at SSRN: or

Richard E. Wagner (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
334 Enterprise Hall
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
(703) 993-1132 (Phone)

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