Mirek Tobiáš Hošman, University of Bologna, Paris City University.
Erwin Dekker, Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994) and the Rise of Economic Expertise, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
In his last book, historian Erwin Dekker uncovers the personal and intellectual life of well-known Dutch economist and the first Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Jan Tinbergen. By tracing Tinbergen’s early life chapters and socialist ideas, his becoming of an economic expert on national and later international levels, and his work on development planning in Global South, namely in India and Turkey, Dekker provides a strong biographical account of one of the most important economists of the 20th century. Interestingly, Dekker argues that Tinbergen’s crucial contribution lies not in his economic ideas and theories, but rather in his understanding of the design of economic policy and the role economic expertise should play in devising such policy. Tinbergen’s transformation from an economist to a policy expert (and the related transformation of economic knowledge into economic expertise) and its consequences are the lasting legacies of Jan Tinbergen according to Dekker. As he explains on the first pages of his book: “For the [economic] expert, an economy is not a natural system he studies as a physicist would, but a system that he can steer – and improve” (xv). The rise of a specific economic expertise then facilitates the creation of new institutions such as planning offices, forecasting bureaus, and international organizations, which become silos and guardians of this expertise and accommodate policy experts of the sort of Tinbergen. Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994) and the Rise of Economic Expertise is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Tinbergen himself, but more importantly of the role of economists and their knowledge in shaping and influencing national and international policy.
Clara Mattei, The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism, The University of Chicago Press, 2022.
Newly released The Capital Order of political economist Clara Mattei examines the intellectual origins of austerity in interwar Britain and Italy. By exploring the ideas, writings and public commentaries of the leading British and Italian economists promoting austerity such as Ralph G. Hawtrey and Maffeo Pantaleoni, Mattei shows how austerity policies were designed to return the economy to its envisaged “natural state” in the years following the WW1 and subjugate the working class into accepting the inviolability of private property and hierarchical wage relations. As Mattei argues, austerity emerged (and since then continues) as “a vital bulwark in defense of the capitalist system” (3) and “anti-democratic reaction to threats of bottom-up social change” (7) . The Capital Order uncovers the political and ideological motives behind the introduction of austerity policies and their portrayal as non-political and technical solutions to capitalist crisis. In Mattei’s writings, austerity is therefore not only an economic policy, but – as pointed out by Mark Blyth – a technocratic form of capitalist crisis management. Mattei’s work sheds new lights on both the austerity policies of the 1920s in Britain and Italy, as well as on the involvement of economists in policy prescription, implementation, and international dissemination.
Elizabeth Popp Berman, Thinking like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy, Princeton University Press, 2022.
In her new book Thinking like an Economist, sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman addresses a distinctive way of thinking about policy – what she terms the economic style of reasoning – that gained prominence in US public policy in the 1960s and since then evolved into the prevalent policy framework in Washington (and elsewhere). Berman explains that the economic style of reasoning is based on a deep appreciation of markets as efficient allocators of resources and efficiency as the measure of good policy. The ingredients of such reasoning include relying on models to simplify, quantifying, weighing costs and benefits, and thinking at the margin. Even though often portrayed and perceived as politically neutral, Berman reminds us that economic reasoning has values and preferences of its own, like the ones for competition, choice, and efficiency, and our rethinking of competing values and policy concerns in the language of economists can come at the cost of some violence to the original positions – as she demonstrates on the example of environmental policies of the 1970s and 1980s which gradually moved from the framework that stigmatized polluters towards the position that saw pollution as an externality to be priced. Besides exploring the different facets, parameters and origins of the economic style of reasoning, Berman also follows its spread in the United States and shows how it became prevalent in Washington. In particular, Thinking like an Economist focuses on two intellectual communities of economists between the 1960s and 1980s – systems analysts from RAND Corporation (whose work focused on how should governments make decision) and a network of industrial organization economists based in Washington (whose work focused on market governance). Berman reconstructs the network and interactions among these economists and shows how they helped to institutionalize a specific style of reasoning in various US policy domains such as antipoverty policy, antitrust policy, environmental regulation, and health and safety regulation. Thinking like an Economist is a masterfully written analysis of the institutionalization of economic type of reasoning in US public policy and provides important lessons for our reflections on the dominance of economic knowledge and economic values in politics.
Antoney Bell, McGill University.
Jack Halberstam, “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies,” in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: NYU Press, 2005), 1-21.
Jack Halberstam examines how queerness as a social identity has the potential to create a new understanding of futurity and life with an alternate relationship to time and space. Halberstam challenges Western ideas of linear progression, suggesting instead that the experiences of queer people deviate from chrono-normativity. For instance, major life events such as 2SLGBTQI people coming out, trans people undergoing a gender transition, or tragedies such as the AIDS epidemic alter the progression of queer lives.
Sara Ahmed, “Happy Futures,” in The Promise of Happiness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 160-198.
Ahmed examines the fabulous film Children of Men that recounts the story of a disillusioned bureaucrat and a pregnant refugee who navigate a dystopic society struck by global human infertility. Ahmed depicts the film’s protagonist, Theo Faron, a cynical “has-been” activist who represents an “affect alien” in a society on the brink of collapse. The possibility of future happiness arises when a rumour foretells of the “Human Project,” an isolated community that will sustain the human race. Theo then discovers a miracle: Kee, a pregnant Black woman who is trying to reach a boat called Tomorrow that will bring her to a utopian community far away from the raging conflict between refugees and the British government. Ahmed skillfully articulates the significance of future happiness through the relationship between Theo, the boat Tomorrow, and Kee’s unborn child. Within our dominant white heteronormative society, humans place great importance on posterity as a means of securing their future happiness. Ahmed implores us to view the boat Tomorrow as an allegory for the futility of future happiness.