Lucy Barnes – University College London

Values, Theories and Pragmatism: The Economic Ideas of British and German Politicians.


How do politicians think about the economy? How elected officials understand economic issues can shape policy, outcomes, and how policy problems are politically contested. Yet this simple descriptive question is rarely asked. We conduct 43 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with current and former elected politicians in the UK and Germany to provide direct and general evidence on this question. We find, first, that in contrast to accounts of technical economic debate, and consensus on market-conforming approaches, these politicians see economics as a highly contested and normative terrain, and their thinking spans a wide range of positions. Second, where the ideational literature in political economy debates the coherence and strength of organising frameworks of ideas in theoretical terms, we observe large variation across politicians. This variation is systematically structured across four groups of politicians as identified by the content of their economic views.

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