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The art of the possiblePolitics and governance in modern British history, 18851997: Essays in memory of Duncan Tanner$
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Chris Williams and Andrew Edwards

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719090714

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719090714.001.0001

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The making and remaking of ‘common sense’ about British economic policy

The making and remaking of ‘common sense’ about British economic policy

(p.16) 1 The making and remaking of ‘common sense’ about British economic policy
The art of the possible

Peter Clarke

Manchester University Press

Economic policy has often been written about as though it were simply a vulgarized version of economic theory. Admittedly, nobody supposes that the content of economic theory is inviolable or unchanging, embodying truths universally true over time. But the relationship is nonetheless often assumed to one of cause and effect. Presumably, then, changes occur in the ‘low politics’ of economic policy when, in due course, the ‘high thinking’ of economic theory achieves successive intellectual breakthroughs, embodying deeper and truer insights. There are several reasons why we should now be doubtful about this kind of model. One reason is the way that the history of ideas has been refashioned during the last generation or so, deposing from their eminent pedestals the ‘great thinkers’ who had previously been supposed to hand on their wisdom, in ever more refined form, to equally eminent successors. Historians now realise that the context in which arguments are mounted is much more important and needs to be recovered. More generally, the nature of intellectual revolutions is now contextualized with greater attention to the common contexts in which ideas have been generated and received.

Keywords:   Economic policy, Economic theory, Common sense, Gladstone, Free Trade, Keynes, Margaret Thatcher

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