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109 Working Paper

Learning and Change in Twentieth-Century British Economic Policy

Jun 15, 2024 – Michael J. Oliver and Hugh Pemberton


Despite considerable interest in the means by which policy learning occurs, and in how it is that the framework of policy may be subject to radical change, the “black box” of economic policymaking remains surprisingly murky. This article utilizes Peter Hall’s concept of “social learning” to develop a more sophisticated model of policy learning; one in which paradigm failure does not necessarily lead to wholesale paradigm replacement, and in which an administrative battle of ideas may be just as important a determinant of paradigm change as a political struggle. It then applies this model in a survey of UK economic policymaking since the 1930s: examining the shift to “Keynesianism” during the 1930s and 1940s; the substantial revision of this framework in the 1960s; the collapse of the “Keynesian-plus” framework in the 1970s; and the major revisions to the new “neo-liberal” policy framework in the 1980s and 1990s.