The continued criticism George Osborne is getting for his proposal to limit tax relief on charitable donations highlights something many economists have thought for years - that we should abolish annual Budgets.
The problem is that the tax and benefit system is so complex, and Budgets contain so many different proposals - kaleidoscopes of trivia - that individual chancellors, surrounded by tiny groups of like-minded people, cannot fully anticipate their effects. Bounded rationality plus groupthink equals bad policy-making.
The solution is simple. Budgets should be first words, not last ones. Tax policy should be a matter for consultation, review and deliberations, not for individual statements from on high. The Budget statement should be the introduction of a green paper.
This is, of course, not a new idea. The IFS’s Green Budgets are intended to be a model for such policy-making. And we had hoped that when Brown introduced Pre-Budget Reports in 1998 that they would become the start of consultation exercises - though they swiftly became mere mini-Budgets.
Now, I suspect that most of you will regard all this as trivial common sense. However, what’s at issue here is two very different conceptions of politics. We have a conflict between politics as rational, deliberative policy-making versus a politics of theatre in which “great men” determine the nation’s economic destiny. It says something about our political system that rationality should be such a radical idea.