From prophets to “data slaves”: An analysis of the signatories of the OECD reports on health (1990–2018)

Special report. The economists’ state. The contribution of economic knowledge to the construction of the state as an economic actor (twentieth and twenty-first centuries)
By Constantin Brissaud

How do statistics produced by an international economic organization become an “obligatory passage point” of a “social” sector such as health? This article seeks the answer to this question through a statistical analysis of the profiles of the agents who signed the OECD reports on health between 1990 and 2018. Borrowing from the sociology of intellectuals, it shows that the OECD initially sought the legitimacy conferred by recognized general economists whose prestige reflected on the institution and the conventions of equivalence that were produced. Once the OECD was legitimized, from the 2000s onward, the reports were signed by little-known experts in health economics, employed on a full-time basis by the international organization, whose work was reduced to aggregating and commenting on the statistics transmitted by the countries. Combined with archival analysis, interviews, and the observation of meetings at the OECD, the statistical analysis thus offers a sociological explanation of the success of a statistical nomenclature that has become an “obligatory passage point” for health system reforms in industrialized countries.

  • OECD
  • health care
  • multiple correspondence analysis
  • reports
  • economists
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