Mary Douglas Memorial Lecture 2019: Playing the Numbers Game in the UK’s Public Expenditure World: Where Goodhart's Law Meets Douglas's Law

‘Goodhart’s Law,’ originally inspired by money-supply indicators, predicts high-consequence administrative numbers tend to be ‘gamed’ out of meaningfulness. So how does this ‘Law’ apply to the arcane world of planning and control of public spending (upwards of £800 billion a year in the UK at present)? Who sees what as ‘gaming,’ as opposed to creative workarounds or helpful ‘tweaks’? How does the gaming work? How does it change over time? And what if anything serves to prevent or mitigate the gaming? Mary Douglas’s ‘law’ that social life tends to involve multiple and contradictory ways of organizing and thinking suggests that received remedies for gaming in public spending numbers (which typically stress rules-based transparency combined with expert autonomy) may be only part of the story.  The talk will be based on a study of the UK’s public expenditure world as it developed in different political and economic conditions over two decades from the early 1990s.

The annual lecture, in memory of Dame Mary Douglas (1921-2007), is sponsored by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford, and the Department of Anthropology at UCL.

Previous Mary Douglas Memorial Lectures

 

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