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November 08, 2012

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john b

His slating of the work done by HS2 Ltd is bizarre, unsourced and completely incorrect, undermining what would otherwise be an interesting piece about evidence versus lobbyists.

Will Davies

Ah, you're slowly succumbing to our mad postmodern constructivist ways! This is a prized scalp indeed!

There is also a very perplexing feature of 'neoliberal' expertise, which is that it constantly flips between trusting markets and trusting economics. The former is the Hayekian sceptical strand, while the latter the more American positivist strand. But often the two become mingled in very confusing ways. However, the fact that some markets (i.e. financial markets) are only possible thanks to the constructs of economics, means that the performativity issue becomes impossible to ignore, as Donald MacKenzie's work shows.

Tim Newman

"If you believe markets know best and that centralized information-gathering is bound to be a deeply flawed process, then you'll invest less effort in it, or be sceptical of the product of doing so."

Huh? Centralised information-gathering is pretty much a pre-requesitie to partaking in free markets. How else do you know which products to market to which customers? You don't get much more neo-liberal than the modern supermarkets, and they spend millions on market research and information gathering.

The difference is that companies carry out market research and gather information in order that they know what to do next. Perhaps even politicians did this once. But nowadays, politicians gather information in order to support what they have already decided and are therefore highly selective in what they consider.

chris

@ Tim - true. But that just shows a point I've made many times - that companies are generally fundamentally anti-Hayekian, as they do believe in the merits of central planning and info-gathering.

Rob

Chris, surely a Hayekian wouldn't believe it to be necessary for market participants themselves to be Hayekian, so long as the system they're operating in is? Tesco can try all they like to believe that their central prediction of customer purchasing trends is the ultimate truth, but if they're wrong then they'll find out pretty quickly when their sales and profits fall. They're anti-Hayekian because they're trying very hard to beat Hayek, which is pretty much what every businessperson is trying to do.

It could be that the government lacks such incentives - what's the worst that can happen to a government minister getting something wrong on, say, HS2? The current government is on its third transport minister in three years anyway, and close association to HS2 has done Philip Hammond's career no harm. The government's anti-Hayekianism is simultaneously fundamental to the mindset of a government minister, but also half-hearted because they know that there's no competitive pressure. Put another way, why should a minister try really hard to make sure the details add up when nobody will notice anyway?

(OK, I'm not sure I believe what I just wrote. But it's not inconsistent with the data points in the original post, it just relies on very different mechanisms).

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