As to why a democracy can lead but to an inflationary trajectory… (Yes Minister)

I always thought Yes Minister is by far one of the most entertaining and edifying comedies ever produced. As it turns out, though unwittingly, the authors of the series also stumbled upon the reason why democracy can lead only to an accelerating inflationary trajectory.

Significant excerpts:

We [the authors] had to get down to basics, to the classic actors’ studio question: “What’s my motivation?” There are two answers: the expressed, publicly acceptable motivation, and the real motivation. The minister’s declared motivation is to serve the voters, to satisfy their hopes and aspirations, at whatever personal sacrifice. His real motivation is to get promoted, to get re-elected, to burnish his own and the government’s image.

The civil servant’s declared motivation is to carry out the wishes of the government efficiently, economically and impartially, working conscientiously and tirelessly to turn ministers’ policies into just, beneficial and workable laws. Their real motivation is to raise their personal status, to enhance the importance of their department, to avoid blame, to gain credit, to minimise work, to resist change, and to retire with an index-linked pension, a knighthood and the chairmanship of a couple of quangos and a seat on the board of a blue-chip company.

It seems that this wider divergence between appearance and reality is not just a British – or even Western-democratic – phenomenon. Gogol wrote The Government Inspector in the 1830s and it exploits this joke – in local rather than national government – in exactly the same way, to the delight of modern audiences.

Secrecy is the key: secrecy, which required concealment, deception and dissimulation. It is not helpful to take a moral view about this, because it is in the nature of all institutions.


There is a permanent conflict between public institutions and democracy. Democracy requires information and control; institutions require secrecy and independence. Jefferson wrote in 1788: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground” and that, in an increasingly institutionalised and globalised world, is happening in just about every country.

The attempts of government to pretend that its only purpose is to carry out the will of the people it serves create a treasure trove of comic opportunities.

The authors probably have not fathomed the immoral truth they have stumbled upon wishing only to see the humorous side of the tragedy that is the political process.

Regrettably, once government becomes the largest actor in the economy, it takes on a life of its own and like all life forms, self preservation becomes the priority regardless of any presumed obligations and duties it may claim to hold as self evident.


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2 Responses to “As to why a democracy can lead but to an inflationary trajectory… (Yes Minister)”

  1. David W. Lincoln Says:

    While the likes of Dubai go belly up, local economies are looking at what can be done. For example, there is this:

  2. David W. Lincoln Says:

    There is this matter of compensation for executives, whether they be in public or private enterprise. Daniel hannan puts it quite well here,

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