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Discursive Multivocality: How the Proliferation of Economic Language Can Undermine the Political Influence of Economists

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Rilinger,  Georg
Wirtschaftssoziologie, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Rilinger, G. (2022). Discursive Multivocality: How the Proliferation of Economic Language Can Undermine the Political Influence of Economists. Socio-Economic Review, (published online February 11). doi:10.1093/ser/mwac004.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-37E5-6
Abstract
This article shows how the proliferation of economic language can undermine the political authority of economists. The argument emerges from a comparative case study of two early experiments with electricity market design. Relying on archival materials and 30 in-depth interviews, I examine why political actors ignored the advice of economists in California, while they deferred to the experts in the Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland (PJM) region. The debates were framed in economic language, but stakeholders interpreted central concepts differently without recognizing the resulting ambiguities. This ‘discursive multivocality’ undermined economists’ authority as experts. It challenged economists’ monopoly on the interpretation of economic concepts and undercut rhetorical strategies to reassert the superiority of their understanding. At the PJM Interconnect, the experts overcame this problem by switching to a different conceptual apparatus. Ironically, economists could establish their authoritative understanding of economics by appealing to a shared understanding of engineering problems.