Age of the expert as policymaker is coming to an end

Wolfgang Münchau at the Financial Times: “…Where the conflation of the expert and the policymaker did real damage was not to policy but to expertdom itself. It compromised the experts’ most prized asset — their independence.

When economics blogging started to become fashionable, I sat on a podium with an academic blogger who predicted that people like him would usurp the role of the economics newspaper columnist within a period of 10 years. That was a decade ago. His argument was that trained economists were just smarter. What he did not reckon with is that it is hard to speak truth to power when you have to beg that power to fund your think-tank or institute. E

ven less so once you are politically attached or appointed. Independence matters. A good example of a current issue where lack of independence gets in the way is the debate on cryptocurrencies. I agree that governments should not lightly concede the money monopoly of the state, which is at the heart of our economic system. But I sometimes wonder whether those who hyperventilate about crypto do so because they find the whole concept offensive. Cryptocurrencies embody a denial of economics. There are no monetary policy committees. Cryptocurrencies may, or may not, damage the economy. But they surely damage the economist.

Even the best arguments lose power when they get mixed up with personal interests. If you want to be treated as an independent authority, do not join a policy committee, or become a minister or central banker. As soon as you do, you have changed camps. You may think of yourself as an expert. The rest of the world does not. The minimum needed to maintain or regain credibility is to state conflicts of interests openly. The only option in such cases is to be transparent. This is also why financial journalists have to declare the shares they own. The experts I listen to are those who are independent, and who do not follow a political agenda. The ones I avoid are the zealots and those who wander off their reservation and make pronouncements without inhibition. An economist may have strong views on the benefits of vaccination, for example, but is still no expert on the subject. And I often cringe when I hear a doctor trying to prove a point by using statistics. The world will continue to need policymakers and the experts who advise them. But more than that, it needs them to be independent….(More)”.