Handling the Blame

The third key political choice relating to the handling of fiscal squeeze that this book focuses on is how incumbents handle the blame associated with loss imposition, particularly since Paul Pierson argued that 1980s retrenchment policies tended to focus on blame avoidance rather than credit claiming. There are various ways of classifying blame avoidance strategies in the literature on that subject, but most make some distinction between presentational strategies (the way policy changes are packaged or announced, for instance by 'stealth taxes' outside the headline rates of the most visible taxes), policy strategies (the way policy content is crafted, for instance in 'inertia strategies' of staying with inherited tax measures so that blame can be directed at predecessors (Rose and Karran 1987)), and agency strategies of shifting or sharing the blame by putting some or all decision-making power in the hands of others, such as technocrats or other politicians in coalition or national governments (Hood 2011).

What this book shows is that approaches to handling the blame were far from uniform over the century considered here. For example the array of agency strategies varied from setting up expert committees to come up with proposals for spending cuts (as happened in 1921 and 1931) to governments operating without any intermediary bodies at all to share the blame, as happened in 1949. 'Stealth taxes' and to some extent also 'stealth spending cuts' (for example through subtle adjustments in price indexes) do seem to have become more salient in the final third of the period considered here, and arguably the same goes for the level of 'creative accounting' on the spending side. In most cases there was rhetorical stress on 'equality of sacrifice' (the slogan of the 1931 emergency National Government), but some policy domains were always more heavily hit than others, and explicit 'ring-fencing' of politically favoured domains become more prominent in later episodes than earlier ones. So what accounts for such variations and trends?

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