Of Economic Experts and Topic Models. The German Council of Economic Experts as Mirrored in the Press, 1963-2015

Lino Wehrheim, University of Regensburg

Recent developments in the field of text mining have provided new tools to analyze large collections of textual sources. Among these new methods, a particularly promising one is topic modelling: the use of statistical algorithms which provide the means to automatically retrieve the content, i.e. topics, of multiple documents. This way, we can quantify the prevalence of themes over long periods of time and thus retrace historical narratives. In my paper, I use topic models to investigate the impact of economic experts on public debate. As John Maynard Keynes claimed, the world is ruled by little else than economic ideas, and although this might be somewhat overstated, economists and their ideas do sometimes indeed exert substantial influence, which, for example, can be observed in the 1950s and 60s. Nevertheless, there is also the notion that politicians and the public rarely listen to economists’ advice, mostly expressed by economic policy advisers themselves. To clarify this ambiguous issue, I study the case of the German Council of Economic Experts which is the most prominent policy advising institution in Germany. I investigate the Council’s relationship to the media as a mirror of public opinion since its foundation in 1963. How has the Council’s public attention changed over time? How can the loss of attention since the early 1980s be explained? Which of its proposals were taken up by the press? To answer these questions, I analyze a text corpus consisting of more than 12,000 articles published in five major German newspapers between 1965 and 2015 using topic modeling.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 37. Culture, Knowledge & Politics