Jim O’Neill challenges assumptions and talks candidly about Brexit

Recently, students at The University of Manchester were joined by Lord Jim O’Neill for a talk on Brexit and its implications for the British economy. The talk was followed by an impromptu Q&A, whereby Lord O’Neill responded to audience questions largely based around the current government.

Lord O’Neill is without a doubt a prominent figure in the field. He is a former Goldman Sachs executive and is best known for devising the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) acronym denoting fast growing developing countries. Additionally, Lord O’Neill served as commercial secretary to the Treasury, where one of his principle concerns was championing the Northern Powerhouse project as the key player in its conception.

The points addressed by Lord O’Neill centred around economic modelling from his previous experience. In so doing, Lord O’Neill challenged several of the assumptions made by academics in classrooms: the idea of unemployment, often perceived to be a lagging indicator of economic performance (i.e. unemployment goes down after output rises, vice versa), as an excellent leading predictor of economic performance (in the case of U.S. joblessness counts produced each month); the notion of China as an economy built on exporting, which is the top importing destination for over 70 countries (including Germany); and lastly that two of the most productively stagnant economies (Britain and Japan) are responsible for one of the most productive manufacturing plants in the world (the Nissan Sunderland factory).

Lord O’Neill finished his talk rather counteractively by suggesting that Brexit is not the biggest challenge for the UK Economy. Instead, we should turn to focus on tackling our productivity issues through revisiting the way we train; our internal inequalities addressing the unique north south divide.

The short Q&A following this talk brought out further insights including why Lord O’Neill chose to walk away from the current government, and the controversy surrounding himself and the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.

It goes without saying that Lord O’Neill was an exceptionally interesting speaker to have at the University, and we hope the Department will continue to invest in similar events with talks of this calibre.

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