participatory budgeting in the US

Participatory Budgeting means asking deliberative groups of citizens to decide how to invest public money. It began in Brazil, when (as I understand the story) the Workers’ Party finally took over after years of military dictatorship. They had promised amazing benefits for all but couldn’t afford their promises, so they created a more democratic process for allocating capital budgets. The process saved their popularity and has survived when conservative parties have rotated into office. It has been found to promote equity and efficiency as well as civic engagement.

Certain elected officials in the US have begun using PB to allocate their own discretionary budgets. Those include Chicago Alderman Joe Moore and New York City Councilperson Brad Lander. PB is being used in a few whole municipalities as well. Gabriel Hetland and Abigail N. Martin report in The Nation that Occupy Wall Street participants have been debating, and in some cases, advocating PB as a way of bringing “participatory democracy inside” the government. The advocates have formed the Community Democracy Project (CDP) to advance PB. The critics, however, are “deeply skeptical of anything that smacks of cooperation with the state.” (Back to the Sixties, anyone?)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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