Workshop – “Economic reason: intellectuals and think tanks in the late twentieth century”

J.K.Galbraith in the 1977 BBC series Age of Uncertainty

The ECONPUBLIC project is hosting a workshop, on Friday 28 June 2013, which will examine historical change in the public interventions of intellectuals and think tanks. It is an emerging consensus that public opinion has been wrestled away from the words and performances of intellectuals to be increasingly managed and dictated by collectives of intellectuals such as think tanks and policy institutes. This workshop will review the state of the art of public history and sociology, and set out implications for future research on the modes and content of public economic knowledge.

Venue: Mill Lane Lecture Room 4 (MLR4), University of Cambridge

9:30-11:30 – Geoff Mulgan
‘Big ideas and little evidence? Reflections on thinktanks of the past, present and future’

      Geoff Mulgan is the Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA), co-founder of Demos and former Head of Policy at No 10 under Tony Blair, reflects on the role of thinktanks in British political life. This a ticketed, free event open to all. See:

Venue: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

13:00-13:40 – Ben Jackson (University of Oxford)
‘New right intellectuals and new right think tanks: the case of the IEA’

    The talk will examine the relationship between the leading intellectuals of the free market right, such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and James Buchanan, and the think tanks that disseminated their writings to the political elite through an investigation of the work of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Britain.

13:40-14:20 – Simon Griffiths (Goldsmiths)
‘After the counter-revolution: think tanks and the emergence of New Labour’

    The talk will review the creation of think tanks in the late 1980s and beyond set up to shift policy away from the ‘counter-revolution’ of the New Right, and will examine the ways in which these think tanks helped to shape policy.

14:20-15:00 – Philip Mirowski (University of Notre Dame)
”How Neoliberalism is Actualized by its Think Tank Perimeter’

    Neoliberalism is real; but it does not wear its essence on its sleeve. The movement’s history involves concerted real-time revision of doctrine, there can be no straight line drawn from some fixed ideology to political programs over the history of “conservatism” or “free market fundamentalism”. Today, the multicentered movement is networked to the Kochtopus (a phrase coined by insiders), the Heritage–Republican Party nexus, the professional economist–finance complex, the Atlas Network of think tanks and NGOs, and more.

15:00-15:30 – coffee break

15:30-16:10 – Patrick Baert (University of Cambridge)
‘Public intellectuals: Transformations in Positioning’

    Drawing on positioning theory, the talk presents a historical sketch of changes in the way that intellectuals engage with their publics. It identifies the major sociological factors which have made it increasingly difficult to act as authoritative public intellectuals without losing credibility.

16:10-16:50 – Thomas Medvetz (University of California – San Diego)
‘Think Tanks and Cognitive Autonomy: Towards a Nietzschean View’

    Disputes about think tank-generated policy recommendations often revolve around questions of organizational autonomy or independence. To reframe and lend greater coherence to the discussion, this paper develops a specification of the concept cognitive autonomy based on a Nietzschean argument.


All welcome but as space is limited please contact us via email at hpsecon[includeat]hermes[dotty]cam[dot]ac[dot]uk to ensure a seat. There are advance papers available for circulation to those who will be attending.