Mumbai: Over the last few years, the government at the centre has employed several prominent economists, including Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian, to provide policy advice. However, it remains unclear how much of their advice is actually heeded.

In recent years, economists across countries have increasingly complained about their policy advice being ignored, whether on taxation, trade or immigration policies. A new paper by Beatrice Cherrier of the University of Cergy-Pontoise in France explores the changing nature of interactions between economists and policymakers to explain why the influence of economists over policy decisions may have reduced. For this, Cherrier investigates how US economic advisor Walter Heller influenced president John F. Kennedy to propose significant tax cuts and present a voluntary budget deficit in 1963, which was an unprecedented move back then. Beatrice highlights how Heller conceived his mission as ‘educating’ the president using his favourite tool: Memos. Analysing Heller’s memos, Beatrice finds that they were devoid of technical jargon, but not of key statistics, had a clear and apparent structure with main arguments systematically underlined.

They also included a quantified depiction of the economic situation, a brief policy proposal, and extensive response to possible criticism. Through these memos, he managed to persuade the executive branch, which had to approve the budget, by emphasizing the non-partisan character of his policies and providing a list of individuals and organizations across the political spectrum who supported his rationale.

Most importantly, he knew that economic statistics and quantification tools, like cost benefit analysis, auctions and scoring techniques, were wielded by persons with specific views, which made it important to ‘personalize’ policy advice to the key policymaker. She argues that in recent years these tools have become more influential in policymaking and actual economists less so. This could be because they’ve lost the ability to influence the stakeholders the way Heller managed to do.

Also Read: How to write a memo to convince a president

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