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What We Can Learn About Good Government From The Renaissance


September 3, 2015

There are so many ratings about good government these days from Corruption Perception through Open Budgets to Rule of Law. Yet, the basic idea of what makes for good governance hasn’t changed much since the 14th Century, as you can tell from The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, frescos painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Italian city state of Sienna. (Detailed images at

According to the Wikipedia page: “The frescoes painted by Lorenzetti promoted the morality of government and provided a constant reminder for the council to remain just leaders by showing comprehensive cause-and-effect situations of corrupt, tyrannical governing in comparison to those of virtuous governing.” The Khan Academy has an excellent video explaining the frescos in detail.

The concepts of peace, prudence and justice for good government and fraud, division, war, tyranny and avarice for bad government seem almost modern. We tend to call this as fragility (absence of peace and existing of war), public financial prudence, rule of law (justice), corruption (fraud), social cohesion (division) inequality (avarice) and lack of democracy and human rights (tyranny). Interestingly, term limits were used in Sienna to reduce corruption. And, private sector productivity in the city and country was linked to good government.

As we seek better practices to improve governance, we need to be reminded of the lessons of the past. In a sense, we all know good and bad government when we see it. It’s just taken seven centuries to find better ways of measuring governance. Yet, these governance measurements are somewhat crude by using proxies and aggregates. Some governance measurements are too high level or too low level to be prescriptive in any way. And, as Matt Andrews has pointed out, many governments try to look as good as possible by “gaming” the governance system.

Allegory of Bad Government

Allegory of Bad Government

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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