ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Power and Gender of Policy Credibility


The point has been made before, by those who are far more expert in the field than I am, that the way we write and speak as economists is highly value-laden. We reduce our models to a few elegant curves and equations but underneath, deep icebergs of value judgments lie. Under the cover of science, sit vital, unproven underpinnings. Feminist economists have been telling men that for a while and we have had to press our palms against our ears more tightly with time to shut it out. Those of us who love policy and data often get confronted with the contradictions between the truth embedded in the language of economics and, well, the truth. That is why so many economists avoid policy and data and consider it a little dirty. But, even when policy economists come across the truth that our language denies, we try and dismiss its systemic quality and consider its particularity. It is wrong, but be a little gentle with yourself for it is how we stay sane. The idea that there is no objective reality, that perspective is everything and language is what is being communicated, is intellectually exciting; but terrifying. Economists are human and humanity needs its bearings, its anchor, its lodestone. It is why we invented religion: it calms our nerves. Recently, I came across a contradiction between the actual truth and the truth in our language in the field of policy credibility that I would like to share with you.

We are taught that credible policies are more effective. We can debate what we mean by credibility, but that is not critical to the point I want to make. When we talk about policy credibility, many economists think it is obvious that if the population thinks a policy will be reversed shortly or its enforcement is weak, it will be less effective. However, the reality is that modern societies function because people do things every day without enforcement. The economy would collapse if we had to physically enforce every policy and have a law enforcement presence at every street corner, at ever traffic light, or electricity pylon. However, the modern society can be easily disrupted. Do you recall how a single person flying a toy drone shut down Heathrow airport and canceled millions of journeys? We do not need full-on enforcement because people accept the legitimacy of policy. They do not seek to disrupt it. A critical element of policy credibility is moral legitimacy.

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Updated On : 12th Oct, 2019
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