Guardians vs. Spenders

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


The guardian-spender conception of an enduring dynamic within government was articulated in 1964 by Aaron Wildavsky.

Louis Imbeau (reference below, p. 5) describes Wildavsky’s model as follows:

“In his conceptualization of the budgetary process, Wildavsky looked at roles (i.e. “the expectations of behavior attached to institutional positions” (Wildavsky 1964:160)) as parts of the division of labor among participants to the budgetary process. For Wildavsky, participants in the budgetary process play two main roles; they are either guardians of the treasury or advocates of program spending. By definition, roles are attached to institutional positions. Guardians are participants from central agencies controlling the budget, advocates are from program agencies. In the Canadian provinces, central agencies are typically the Treasury board and its secretariat, and the department of Finance. Program agencies are the departments responsible for programs, the most important ones at the provincial level being in the fields of health and education.

“Guardians and advocates interact in a complementary way and their roles are to be understood as a whole, their interactions creating a stable pattern of mutual expectations which tend to reduce the burden of calculations for budget participants.

“Administrative agencies act as advocates of increased expenditure, and central control organs function as guardians of the treasury. Each expects the other to do its job; agencies can advocate, knowing the center will impose limits, and the center can exert control, knowing that agencies will push expenditures as hard as they can. Thus roles serve as calculating mechanisms.” (Wildavsky 1975: 7)”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Institutional Dynamics within Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Louis M. Imbeau (2006), Are Wildavsky’s Budgetary Roles Still Relevant: A content analysis of policy speeches in Quebec, 1980-2004, Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, Toronto, June 2006, at, accessed 28 August 2016.

Aaron Wildavsky (1964), The politics of the budgetary process. Toronto, Little, Brown and Co.

Aaron Wildavsky (1975), Budgeting: A Comparative Theory of Budgetary Processes. Boston/Toronto, Little, Brown & Company.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 30 August 2016.