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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

Epistemic Worries about Economic Expertise

European Union
Political Theory
Public Policy
Cathrine Holst
Universitetet i Oslo
Cathrine Holst
Universitetet i Oslo
Anders Molander
OsloMet–Oslo Metropolitan University

This paper contributes to ongoing normative discussions on the role of experts in policy-making. It focuses on epistemic worries about the expertisation of politics, and takes up debates on the role of economic expertise in EU governance in light of the post crisis reform discourse and increased EU segmentation. Epistemic concerns are often underplayed by those who defend an increasing role of economists and other experts in policy-making, while those who have epistemic worries often tend to overstate them and debunk expertise. The chapter presents ten epistemic worries; some of an epistemological nature, others relating to failures and biases. These are: (1) that we cannot know who the “real” or “best” economic experts are; (2) that all political decisions, including those on economic policy, have moral dimensions and that there is no moral expertise; (3) that proper economic expertise is only possible under conditions of “normal science” and political “well orderedness”; (4) that economists, like laypeople, make cognitive errors; (5) that economists, representing a particular disciplinary perspective and epistemic cultures, are one-eyed, overstretch their competence and fail to see their own perspective as one of many relevant perspectives; (6) that economists may be influenced by self-interest, or (7) have ideological commitments that bias their judgements; (8) that we cannot be sure that economic experts speak truth to power; (9) that economists often lack the competence (or willingness) to translate their expert knowledge to make it understandable for policy-makers and concerned citizens; and, finally, (10) that economic experts do not understand the logic of politics and lack the ability of good political judgement.
These worries no doubt point to real problems that have to be handled through the design of expert bodies. We introduce an epistemically oriented reform approach and three groups of mechanisms that are likely to contribute to remedying the problems of economic expertise and that complements alternative – technocratic, social and democratic – reform approaches.
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