The Politics of the ‘Moderate’: Think Tanks and the Mediation of Expertise and Politics in Times of Austerity

Thursday, July 13, 2017
WMB - Gannochy Seminar Room 3 (University of Glasgow)
Marcos Gonzalez Hernando , Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge
This paper shall focus on the role a particular type of political actor, think tanks and their experts, have in shaping the contours of what is considered moderate and reasonable in moments of epistemic uncertainty. Inspired by Thomas Medvetz’s framework, this contribution understands think tanks as ‘boundary organisations’ operating across several fields, most notably academia, politics, the media and business interests. From that backdrop, this study deduces that think tanks play a crucial part in negotiating truth-claims across fields – for instance, between what is politically expedient and the academic consensus, especially where these do not coincide.

To analyse tensions between fields, this presentation will focus on the work of two British organisations, Policy Exchange and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, in the debates on the need for sharp fiscal consolidation after the 2008 financial crisis. While the first is a think tank closely linked to David Cameron’s Conservative Leadership, the second is a long-established institution specialised in the production of econometric forecasts and with several connections to academia and international organisations (such as the IMF). By analysing these think tanks' public interventions on macroeconomic policy between 2007 and 2013 and how their publics perceived them, this paper seeks to trace how these institutions sought to define what should be considered economically reasonable. It concludes by reflecting on a growing rift between the expert advice of those economic experts most closely linked to academia, and what is regarded more broadly as politically apposite and moderate.

  • CES Paper, MGH.pdf (204.6 kB)