The Power of Economists Within the State

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Johan Christensen , Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University
The growing power of economists and economic knowledge in politics and policy-making has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years. An important aspect of this trend is the spread of economic ideas and principles to new policy domains, such as health care, social welfare and transport policy. Often this involves the application of efficiency criteria and cost-benefit analysis to political questions. Whereas this growing attention to efficiency may strengthen the fiscal sustainability of public policies, it may also threaten sustainability by reducing the legitimacy of policies and by narrowing the room for democratic decision-making. However, we lack empirical evidence on how economic knowledge has spread to different policy domains and what has determined the pattern of diffusion. The paper examines this by looking at the reliance on economists and economic knowledge in policy advisory commissions in Norway over the last 40 years. The paper asks: How did the reliance on economic knowledge in Norwegian advisory commissions in different policy areas change in the period 1972-2015, and what determines the changing reliance on economic knowledge? These questions are addressed through a quantitative analysis of a new dataset of over 1500 advisory commissions. Tracing the reliance on economic knowledge along two dimensions – the participation of academic economists on  commissions and citations to economic research in commission reports – the paper shows a marked but uneven diffusion of economic knowledge.