The Ambiguity of Superiority and Authority

18 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2022 Last revised: 11 Jan 2023

See all articles by Jon Murphy

Jon Murphy

Western Carolina University

Date Written: December 23, 2022


In Jan Tinbergen and the Rise of Economic Expertise, Erwin Dekker discusses the political context surrounding John Maynard Keynes's critique of Jan Tinbergen's 1939 statistical report on business cycles for the League of Nations. Keynes was disappointed that Tinbergen's report was politically neutral. Conversely, Tinbergen saw the neutrality as a feature of the report. I argue that the disagreement between Keynes and Tinbergen also hints at confusion over the superiority and authority experts possess. "Authority" and "superiority" are ambiguous and such ambiguity causes discussions on the role of experts and expertise to become confused. I use Adam Smith's discussion of jural and comparative superiority, enhance it with a discussion of jural and comparative authority, and use that framework to analyze the Keynes-Tinbergen debate. I conclude that the debate was as much about the superiority and authority of experts as the methods or political context of the report.

Keywords: Jan Tinbergen, John Maynard Keynes, Expertise, Authority, Superiority

JEL Classification: B23, B31

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jonathan, The Ambiguity of Superiority and Authority (December 23, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Murphy (Contact Author)

Western Carolina University ( email )

1 University Way
Cullowhee, NC 28723
United States

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