Publication Details

Bowrey, G. D. & Smark, C. J. (2010). The influence of Jeremy Bentham on recent public sector financial reforms. Journal of New Business Ideas and Trends, 8 (1), 25-35.


Jeremy Bentham’s (1748 – 1832) work while vast is generally considered to be based primarily on economics, law, social control, public administration and public interest. His most notable contributions are in the areas of utilitarianism, a moral theory where the correct action is one which produces the greatest amount of happiness or least amount of pain for the greatest number of people, and the use of a system of constant surveillance, panopticon, to internalise the desired behaviour of individuals. Bentham also made significant contributions to public sector financial accountability through his work on the principle of publicity where he outlined the need for “the doors of all public establishments … to be, thrown wide open to the body of the curious at large” (Bentham cited in Bowring 1843, p. 46). The purpose of this paper is to identify and examine the similarities of Bentham’s work and the New Public Management practices currently influencing public sector financial reforms. The theoretical framework of this paper is shaped through a reflection of Bentham’s work on utilitarianism, public administration, bookkeeping and publicity (reporting) and a review of the rationale behind the relatively recent New Public Management ideology which has driven many of the recent public sector financial reforms. The paper argues that many of today’s public sector financial accountability processes and procedures associated with recent public sector financial reforms, which are based on New Public Management, reflect much of Bentham’s work. For example the preparation of publicly available budget reports such as Portfolio Budget Statements, which contain the proposed annual expenditure of government departments and are used to assist in the discharge of public sector organisations’ financial accountability, could be linked to Bentham’s principle of publicity. The key finding of this paper is that research based on Bentham’s work will improve the understanding of the recent New Public Management based public sector financial reforms.

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Journal of New Business Ideas and Trends