Performativity in policy June 10, 2013 at 8:32 am

I am buried in final book proofs – when your title is listed on the publisher’s website with a publication date less than six weeks away, you know that it is urgent – but I wanted to at least point to an insightful old post of Chris Dillow’s. He discusses how the ideological environment in which policy is formulated affects its outcome.

the “neoliberal” turn in politics has two adverse effects:

  1. If you believe markets know best and that centralized information-gathering is bound to be a deeply flawed process, then you’ll invest less effort in it, or be sceptical of the product of doing so. Cost-benefit analyses will then be founded upon flimsier evidence, or won’t carry much weight even if it is.
  2. The increased belief in consumer sovereignty and decline in faith that “the man in Whitehall knows best” (to which “Nudge” economics is the counter-reaction) has devalued expertise. If politics is about giving voters what they want, you don’t need experts and evidence, but just pollsters and market researchers.

In these senses, “neoliberalism” has had some performative effects upon policy.

This is clearly right. There’s no such thing as an ‘objective’ cost benefit analysis, however hard you (or aren’t) trying to produce one. Politics can’t help but colour any policy making process — which is one of the reasons that it is so important.

Update. It occurs to me that there is a variant of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here: instead of `the structure of your languages affects your cognition’ we have `your politics affects which policies you can implement’.

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