Thursday, May 3, 2012

On Expertise and Influence: Interview with Ann Pettifor

What constitutes expertise as a social, political and cultural matter?  It involves charts, data, lines on a CV, connections, financial support, and a means of repeatedly broadcasting the same message.  In 2003, Ann Pettifor predicted the global debt meltdown but no one was listening; in this interview with the Renegade Economist [posted at NC], she discusses the crowding out of ideas that is perpetuated because of the structure of interest group-funded economics research.  This sounds so much like the Vijay Prashad interview in regards to the silencing of alternative views from UNCTAD which, like Pettifor, is credited with accurate predictions about the economic crisis.  A similar tale can be told about tax treaty policy making and the turf struggle between the OECD and the UN.  In international tax in general we see the cult of expertise in the claiming of "internationally agreed standards" on tax policy, with I think similar effects--the alternative view is too often silenced, sometimes intentionally but often just by lacking the necessary backing and platforms.

Starting at around the 7 minute mark, Pettifor has a lot to say about institutional expertise and about why we will continue to get more of the same policy prescriptions from influential economists: they are mostly "hired guns" who don't have tenure, while those with tenure, who can "afford to say that which is not mainstream," are few and far between.  She says most economists therefore "are employed in think tanks and research departments that are underwritten by the finance sector.  RE agrees: "if you watch Charles Ferguson's film Inside Job and you see the cowardice of the neoclassical economists at the end who jut blankly refuse to answer the questions and then when they do are full of spite, you get a kind of insight into the murky world you're dealing in."  

Pettifor then talks about conferences where neoclassical and heterodox economists are engaging in dialogue, and she says this is unusual because the neoclassicals "aren't used to dialogue with anyone who doesn't share their world view, and that is so damaging."

Jumping to 10:20, she lays out the intellectual/institutional conflict:
"I am right now reading a speech by a man called Ben Broadbent, who is on the board of the bank of England and who was at Goldman Sachs and who's written a paper saying that the cause of the crisis had absolutely nothing to do with easy money, i.e., unregulated money; it had everything to do with the fact that interest rates were incredibly low.   
Now when I read that paper, it is so deceptive really, and yet it's packed with charts and data, and some sources, even, of information, he does neglect to give us the source of some of his data, that paper, I am convinced, has been written in Goldman Sachs's research department and he's delivered the speech on behalf of Goldman Sachs and he's on the bank of the Board of England.   
Now, that's not a conspiracy.  It's huge political and economic power.  And those of us who have an alternative view don't have that sort of backing, and don't have those sorts of platforms, and that's very damaging for public discourse."
Much more on the substantive economic issues and debate as the interview continues.

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