Economic experts

The German Council of Economic Experts as perceived by the media.
A text mining approach (1965-2015)

As Keynes remarked in 1936, “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.” Being an economics student myself, I always wondered how we could grasp the impact of economists, in case that there is any, on the world outside the study rooms. This led me to the topic of my current project, in which I study the impact of the German Council of Economic Experts on the public opinion. More precisely, I aim to show how the Council, which was founded back in 1963, has been perceived by the media since the 1960s. In a recent article, Jan Willmroth from the Süddeutsche Zeitung stated that the Council’s annual reports would receive only short-term and rather superficial public attention after publication in November. But is Willmroth right in his observation? And if he does have point, is it just a recent phenomenon due to the “attention economics in the digital age”? Or is this rather the result of a long-term development? Questions such as these suggest that a historical perspective on the Council and its relationship to the media will be a promising undertaking.

To cover a period of more than 50 years, I rely on methods from the field of text mining. Particularly, I apply so-called topic models, an approach to automatically receive the content of large collections of texts. By applying these algorithms to the Council’s annual reports and to a collection of newspaper articles, I can show how the Council’s positions have evolved in terms of topics addressed and to identify the public debates in which the Council was referred to. As a preliminary result, I can show that the public attention towards the Council has declined considerably since its heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Still, there seems to a comeback since the early 2000s, which can be attributed to the fundamental policy changes under the Schröder administration as well as to certain prominent members of the Council.