Economic Advice and Rhetoric

Economic Advice and Rhetoric

Why do Consultants Perform Better than Academic Advisers?

Onno Bouwmeester

This book compares the approaches of consultants and academic advisers and provides an in-depth analysis of their advice argumentation. Both compete on the market for economic advice, with consultants enjoying a larger market share and usually obtaining higher fees. However, academics criticize them for overcharging, shallowness, and quick-and-dirty methods. So, are consultants’ clients misled or even cheated? Not necessarily. The book reveals that academics have drawbacks as well; their arguments are less balanced than those of consultants and their estimates contradict each other more.

Chapter 3: Advice Analysis and Rhetoric

Onno Bouwmeester

Subjects: business and management, management education, organisation studies, strategic management, education, management education, politics and public policy, public policy


According to positivist economists such as Robbins or Tinbergen, economic advice has to be a scientific activity. It has to be value free and limited to the application of economic principles and regularities that are the result of positive scientific inquiry. The economic adviser offers a client “if-then” advice. It is the client’s task to state preferences, values and objectives. If the client articulates objectives, the economic way to reach these objectives would be the result of economic advice. This is exceptional in the market for economic advice though. Clients often need help articulating preferences and objectives because of ill-structured problems. Without this help, advice is based on the wrong articulation of objectives and therefore worthless. In practice it is also problematic to distinguish neutral means from objectives, since means or instruments are rarely neutral. They are often objectives themselves, so the discussion of appropriate means touches on the discussion on objectives. Economic advice thus demands more than its science proposes to cover. How is advice characterized from a philosophical perspective? Economists focus on positive questions in the context of advice, leaving ethical questions to the philosophers. What normative elements of advice exist in philosophical discussions? How do philosophers reflect on the kind of knowledge that is needed in the context of advice? Because advice is always presented by means of language, how do language philosophers and rhetoricians reflect on it? Aristotle (1991), Toulmin (1994), Toulmin et al. (1984) and Habermas (1988a), for example, argue that advice is a rhetorical...

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