Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by David S.G. Goodman
Chapter 8: Managing government finance
Decisions on public monies are arguably the most important set of political decisions made during peacetime. They are products of protracted negotiations between diverse and often conflicting interests, but are often manifested only in government budget books as revenue and spending statistics. The neatness of numeric representation disguises the nuances of the negotiation process, which is highly opaque even in the most participative jurisdictions. The technical nature of fiscal management reduces accessibility further. A popular saying in the PRC captures the accessibility challenges: ‘the outsider has no clue; the insider has no clear picture’ – even fiscal workers in government complained about the murkiness of fiscal information outside their own immediate domain. A large part of the story of the public purse was at best cursorily speculated by the nosiest observer. What are the priorities informing revenue collection and spending? How are these important decisions made and what is their rationale? What are the impacts? Systematic scrutiny of these key questions in the management of government finance has been immensely difficult in all political systems (Wildavsky 1986 , 1992; Goode 1984; Hillman 2009), including China.
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