How do elected politicians think about the economy? Evidence from Germany and the UK

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How do elected politicians think about the economy? On the one hand, politicians’ choices are a critical link in political economy accounts of policy change and variation. What informs these choices? On the other, an important literature in economic sociology and political science documents the rise of (a particular kind of) economic ideas in policymaking. But these accounts focus on economists and civil servants within government bureaucracies— have elected officials been similarly affected? We examine the economic ideas of 43 elected politicians who have held important economic policy positions in their political parties, in the UK and Germany. In-depth interviews reveal that their approach to economic policy making is quite at odds with canonical models. We see only limited attention to the central concerns implicit in the `electoral turn’ school of comparative political economy, namely growth and voter preferences. Equally, the reach of a technical, scientized expert approach to economic policymaking falls largely short of including electoral officials. Rather, politicians’ economic thinking is mission-driven: it is highly normative and intrinsically motivating. Second, it is resistant to abstraction, and politicians rely heavily on non-statistical and ``unscientific’‘ evidence. In thinking about economic policy, politicians act primarily as moral arbiters between economic and other goals, rather than as deferential consumers of technical advice, or bearers themselves of a particular economic style of reasoning.