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Economic Experts and Neoliberal Policy Changes: A Case Study of North American Free Trade

  • Author(s): Fairbrother, Malcolm
  • et al.

Existing research shows that economists play central roles in neoliberal policy changes, particularly when they rise to high-level positions of formal authority as bureaucrats or politicians. This paper improves on previous studies of economists’ influence by showing that, no matter what the formal authority of their posts, they still need to persuade powerful constituencies to support them for their policy agendas to become politically feasible. Previous studies have not fully explained how economists actually do that. Using a case study of North American economic integration in the 1980s and early 90s, I examine how economic experts successfully influence the policy priorities and stances of political and economic elites. But they frame their advocacy of liberalization using arguments with which they themselves disagree, in efforts to appeal to those other elites. This analysis therefore demonstrates both the power of economic experts and the limits of their power, and identifies several strategic frames used to make neoliberal policy changes politically feasible.

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