Fairy Tales and Knowledge Creation in and Beyond Political Economy
Economic Science Fictions

Ben Spies-Butcher and Gareth Bryant, ‘Seeing like a bank, calculating like a state’

by Gareth Bryant on September 20, 2018

Department of Political Economy Seminar Series

Seeing like a bank, calculating like a state

Ben Spies-Butcher (Macquarie) and Gareth Bryant (Sydney)

When: 4.00-5.30 Thursday 20th September

Where: Merewether 498, University of Sydney


This paper explores changes in the ways advanced capitalist states manage and govern social policy. It builds on the financialisation literature to focus on how financial ways of calculating are being incorporated into the policy process via accounting techniques. The paper uses a series of examples to highlight how states have begun to ‘think’ like a financial actor. However, unlike more conventional understandings of financialisation, which involve the state externalising social risks to private financial markets, we focus on how these processes remain embedded within the fiscal powers of states, reshaping how policy is designed, implemented and evaluated. We identify a number of important common tendencies: to shift power from line to central agencies; to construct policy issues as technical problems requiring ‘evidence’; and to reduce social challenges to quantifiable outcomes, which in turn imply price-like trade-offs.  Each of these tendencies is consistent with dominant understandings of neoliberal governance and the demise of politics, however we argue that within social policy, politics has not disappeared, but has rather been reconstructed. The presentation is the beginning of a larger project, and so we end by raising questions to guide future research and open debate.

Gareth Bryant
Gareth Bryant is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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