Democratic accountability, part 2

Part 1 describes what “democratic accountability theory” is.

“Accountability” has a generalized positive connotation. Surely it is better when power is held accountable than when it is unaccountable or arbitrary. Scratching the surface, however, various considerations make it evident that the appeal of “electoral accountability” is illusory.

  • First, an “accountable government” is presumably self-evidently superior to an “unaccountable government” whose mandate is permanent and therefore cannot be replaced. But the charm of accountability seems less clear when the alternative is a different “unaccountable” government – a government whose mandate is temporary and cannot be renewed. If elections are the only method of accountability then such a limited mandate government is not accountable either. Accountability, it turns out, is not about replacing government any more than it is about permanent government. For some reason, a government must be re-electable to be “accountable”. It is the ability to award the prize of re-election that makes a government electorally accountable. If a prize cannot be awarded, or cannot be withdrawn, the spell of accountability is nullified.

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