Government budget, read all about it!

Wikimedia doesn't have many photos of government budgets
Wikimedia doesn’t have many photos of government budgets

Today’s post is from Kate Lancaster, editor in charge of publications on government finance at the OECD.

Government budgets are news. Tough choices have had to be made in these challenging economic times and we’re all interested in how our governments are managing our money.

While the big headlines capture our attention – “Spending Plan: Seven More Years of Pain”, “Government Shutting Down” – do you ever wonder what’s actually happening behind the scenes? Despite the political clashes that make the news, there is still solid, steady work going on in countries, ensuring that governments can manage fiscal reforms responsibly and budget well, as OECD research shows.

Interested in the nitty-gritty of how countries create and manage their budgets? Check out the OECD Journal on Budgeting, which draws on the work of senior budget officials from around the world and whose issues include reviews of the budgetary systems of more than thirty countries.

Concerned about reforms of public administration and about the quality of services delivered to the public? Have a look at the OECD’s Value for Money in Government series.

Want to learn more about the hard truths many countries are facing, as they decide where to spend, where to save, and how to do it all efficiently? The OECD’s recent review of Greece’s ongoing welfare system reforms may interest you, as may Restoring Public Finances.

Wondering about how your country’s borrowing needs compare? The OECD Sovereign Borrowing Outlook may be the book for you.

Worried about how much your government owes? This table, which presents governments’ deficits and surpluses (as a percent of GDP), may interest you, as might this one on government debt, while you’ll find the full picture in OECD Central Government Debt Statistics.

Want to know what it’s really all about? Watch this:

Useful links

OECD work on budgeting and public expenditures

After the crisis: Five questions

We are publishing From Crisis to Recovery, a new book from the OECD Insights series here on the blog, chapter-by-chapter.  This book traces the roots and the course of the crisis, how it has affected jobs, pensions and trade, while charting the prospects for recovery.

These chapters are “works in progress” and their content will evolve.  Reader comments are encouraged and will be used in shaping the book.

By way of introduction …

Perhaps no image from the Great Depression of the 1930s is more iconic than “Migrant Mother”, a photograph by Dorothea Lange. It shows a tired-looking woman staring out from under a rough canvas tent; in her arms a baby is nestling, against her shoulders two older children are resting.

The woman’s name was Florence Owens Thompson, and she was travelling with her family through California looking for work when she was spotted by Lange. “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet,” the photographer later recalled. “I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed.”

Eighty years on, it’s hard to think of a single image that bears such eloquent witness to our era’s “Great Recession”. That’s not too surprising. Even though many people have lost their jobs, and some their homes, the suffering and hardship of the 1930s have not been repeated. Indeed, as economies continue their slow recovery, it’s tempting to imagine that this slowdown will soon be forgotten – just a blip in the world’s otherwise orderly economic progression.

Tempting, but dangerous. Just as the Great Depression defined the lives of a generation and reshaped the world’s economic and political contours, the recession we’ve lived through will have long-term consequences. Some of these will be economic, some social, and some may not become fully apparent for years to come.

To think about some of these long-term impacts, this chapter poses five questions:  

►       What’s the long-term economic impact?

►       When will government policy get back to normal?

►       Has the global balance shifted?

►       Can the crisis become a green opportunity?

►       And, does economics need a rethink?