ratchet principle
n. The tendency for bureaucracies and organizations to accumulate new powers, rules, and similar elements of control, while also resisting the removal of existing elements of control.

Example Citations:
The EU has adopted the ratchet principle in which it is virtually impossible to reverse the centralisation of power.
—William Rees-Mogg, "The decline and fall of the EU empire," Mail on Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mr Cameron also talks about undoing the acquis communautaire — the ratchet principle confirmed in the Maastricht Treaty — which commits EU nations to all previous and future centralising measures, thus ruling out the repatriation of national powers he says he seeks.
—David Lucas, "Tories can't keep pledges on Europe," Western Morning News, March 23, 2007

Earliest Citation:
The use of current performance as a partial basis for setting future targets is an almost universal feature of economic planning. This "ratchet principle," as it is sometimes called, creates a dynamic incentive problem for the enterprise.
—Martin L. Weitzman, "The 'ratchet principle' and performance incentives," Bell Journal of Economics Vol. 11, April 1, 1980 (approx)


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