Monday, 6 June 2011

52 economists

Eamonn Butler has done some digging ...
I was slightly astonished when I read that "52 economists" had written to the Observer to say that the government's book-balancing, welfare-reforming strategy was all wrong. First, as unkind people say, there are three kinds of economist – those who can count, and those who can't. When 364 economists wrote to the Times to beat up Mrs Thatcher's economic strategy many years ago, they obviously got the number of days in the year wrong. At least this lot know how many weeks there are in a year.

But what really puzzled me is how any economists, never mind 52 of them, should say anything so daft. Plainly, we've been spending and borrowing far too long, and now it's chicken-roosting time. That's pretty obvious.

So I spent an hour doing a very quick Google check on the 52 that had signed the letter.
He found that "only 15 of the 52 are actually practising mainstream economists". Among the rest ...
Quite a few are prominent campaigners:

Andrew Watt, Senior Researcher, European Trade Union Institute
Michael Burke, Economic Consultant (frequent Guardian columnist)
Pat Devine, University of Manchester – Industrial Economics (Google says he's a 'Radical economist')
Richard Murphy, Director, Tax Research LLP – Anti-Poverty Campaigner

Including several from the left-wing new economics foundation:

Professor Marcus Miller, University of Warwick – Macroeconomics
James Meadway, Senior economist, new economics foundation
Ruth Potts, Campaign Manager, the Great Transition (at the new economics foundation)
Andrew Simms, nef fellow and Green New Deal Group Member
James Meadway, Senior economist, new economics foundation
He continues:
A large number are not economists but teachers of 'organizational studies'

Dr Gregory Schwartz, University of Bath – Organizational Studies
Professor Alison Pullen, Swansea University – Organization Studies
Dr Damian O'Doherty, University of Manchester – People, Management and Organizations
Professor Simon Lilley, University of Leicester – Information and Organization
Colin Crouch, University of Warwick – Governance and Public Management
Nick Isles, Managing Director of Corporate Agenda – Organizational Performance
Professor Stephen Haseler, Global Policy Institute – Constitution and International Relations
Prof Peter Case, Bristol Business School – Leadership and Organizational Ethics

While several more are social policy theory:

Professor Adrian Sinfield, University of Edinburgh – Social Policy
Professor Stephen Linstead, University of York – Organizational Theory Research
David Donald, Glasgow Caledonian University – Political Science
Professor David Marquand, Oxford University – Politics (former Labour MP)
Stuart White, Jesus College, Oxford University – Politics
Valerie Bryson, Emerita Professor of Politics, University of Huddersfield – Politics (retired)
Alan Finlayson, Reader, Dept. of Political and Cultural Studies , Swansea – Political Theory

Some are historians, others involved in culture, and even media studies:

Prof Richard Grayson, Goldsmiths, University of London – History
Professor Jonathan Rutherford, Middlesex University – Cultural Studies
Professor Stefano Harney, Queen Mary, University of London – Strategy, Culture and Society
Professor David Knights, Bristol Business School – Ethics, Gender Studies, Financialization
Professor Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London – Media and Communications
Dr. Douglas Chalmers, Glasgow Caledonian University – Media and Journalism
Personally, I don't put too much stock in an economics degree, a professorship, or even a Nobel Prize. There are plenty of respected, mainstream economists spouting the most absurd Keynesian nonsense. But the signatories obviously thought that the label of 'economist' carried some special clout:
Recent economic figures have shown that the government urgently needs to adopt a Plan B for the economy. As economists and academics, we know the breakneck deficit-reduction plan, based largely on spending cuts, is self-defeating even on its own terms. It will probably not manage to close the deficit in the planned time frame and the government's strategy is likely to result in a lot more pain and a lot less gain.

We believe a more effective strategy for sustainable growth would be achieved:

• through a green new deal and a focus on targeted industrial policy.

• by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, as well as by raising taxes on those best able to pay

• through real financial reform, job creation, "unsqueezing" the incomes of the majority, the empowerment of workers and a better work-life balance.

These are the foundation of a real alternative and it is time the government adopted it.
The BBC reported this uncritically. The Guardian headline was "George Osborne plan isn't working, say top UK economists". It's a damning indictment that this is the best they could come up with.

And the "breakneck deficit-reduction plan, based largely on spending cuts"? Let's look again at the figures from (adjusted for inflation):

Spending is higher now than it was in 2009 and 2010, and by 2015 it will still be higher than it was in 2009. What the "economists" mean when they talk of "savage cuts" is that government spending isn't accelerating as quickly as they would like. The truly shocking thing, though, is that the Conservatives play along. They're happy to take the flak for cuts that they aren't actually making. Is this because they think the markets will be fooled by tough talk? Or is it that they actually have no interest in making real cuts, and they're more concerned about being attacked from the right than the left.

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