Past Events

Cakeonomics Event: The Gig Economy Debate

PCES recently had our third ‘Cakeonomics’ event on the gig economy. Speaking were Jack Hunter (from the Institute for Public Policy Research) and Sam Dumitru (from the Adam Smith Institute), two people one would expect to have very different views about the merits and drawbacks of the gig economy. Dumitru – who used to be a student here at Manchester – argued that the gig economy has brought immense benefits to both consumers and workers. He cautioned against only considering the well-being of workers, which would ignore the lower prices, better matching of demand and supply and increased convenience brought by companies such as Uber and Airbnb. He further argued that although these companies have perhaps not been competing on a level playing field, this was largely due to over-regulation of existing industry, particularly hotels, and so deregulating them would make competition work more effectively. He did, however, acknowledge that there have been some issues with increased insecurity of workers in the gig economy, and reduced worker’s rights. In response, he cited surveys showing that most Uber drivers are happy with their flexible contracts; he also argued that for many of them, the gig economy was better than the alternative. Hunter’s overarching point was that governments have proven under-prepared to deal with the changes that have occurred in the labour market. Gig economy workers are not really ’employees’ in the traditional sense that, say, factory workers might have been and so the company is less invested in their development. Although there are benefits to this flexibility, the state needs to adapt to alleviate the corresponding lack of security while...

Event Review: George Osborne’s Talk at Manchester

As many people will be aware, George Osborne was recently appointed an honorary professor here at Manchester University. At the time, Francesca Rhys-Williams of PCES hoped that it would give the university an opportunity to broaden their approach to economics and ground it better in real world experience. To that end, Osborne recently gave his first talk since joining the university. (Unfortunately it was a private event, attended largely by faculty and postgraduate students from the social sciences, which is a shame for undergraduates and members of the public who would like to hear Osborne speak and ask him questions.) The substance of Osborne’s talk concerned his time as chancellor, a controversial period during which he famously pursued ‘fiscal austerity’, cutting spending and increasing (some) taxes to try and tackle the fiscal deficit. Whatever one thinks of Osborne’s decision in office, it is worth listening to a former chancellor speak about his experience to understand his reasoning. For example, Osborne pointed out that the UK tax take as a % of GDP is historically very stable and difficult to change, which is why he focused mostly on cutting spending; he also said that shortly after the Coalition came to office in 2010, the UK had a failed gilt auction, which buoyed his decision to pursue austerity. At other times Osborne said things that would chime well with the student movement to reform economics: he argued that “the economy is not some remote thing, it is the aggregate decisions of over 65 million people”, sounding quite a lot like our website ecnmy.org. This implied two things: that no theory can...

PCES Conference 2017: The Big Questions.

Our recent conference on the 18th and 19th of March was wonderful. For that weekend, University place was full of ideas and proposals from all kinds of people. There were raised voices at times, there were feelings also, at times of immense clarity, but more than anything it was just really interesting. There were over 20 talks over the course of the weekend. Richard Murphy’s one for example, was on tax avoidance and evasion and its effect on society. The level of energy and enthusiasm, and the insight he gave us on the true nature of tax avoidance. The picture that he painted provided gave us a good idea of the scale of tax avoidance and how corrosive this really is. It seemed almost comical how easily certain people and companies can avoid tax. But when we remember what our tax pays for the laughter is replaced by a kind of indignance. Especially during the last election when the feeling was very much that ‘we’ve run out of money’, and that thus we could ‘no longer afford’ to be splashing money on public services. The ‘Civil Discussion’ with Bob Kerslake was also very insightful, and similar to past events felt very much like an inside scoop on the world. Bob identified a number of regional imbalances within the UK such as London’s responsibility for 40% of UK output, despite as we know, only representing a tiny part of the UK. He suggested regional devolution in England into large areas as a more appropriate means of governance, along with some other suggestions, thereby stimulating a discussion within the room that saw us through to our...

The Employers Panel Event

On Tuesday 7th February we were lucky enough to be joined by Frances Coppola, a former banker and now prominent financial writer, Andy Ross a former deputy of the Treasury and Howard Kingston, head of maritime insurance at the Zurich Insurance Group. Where we settled into a lecture theatre for an evening of insights into the world of work. A number of themes stood out, some related closely to the guiding topic of the talk (‘are our degrees failing us’) and most about general advice on how to approach the world of work. The message was nuanced, but broadly similar across the board: are degrees are not failing us, but they could be a lot better and more applicable to the working world. This models we learn are not useless but not always useful, and that what we learn is far from the whole picture. Andy Ross gave a number of very funny accounts of people using simple macroeconomic models to look at issues as complex as immigration. To this end Frances Coppola had a lot to say. Adding that we need to understand how things actually are: banks create nearly all of the money in circulation and that money itself, while it is often skirted over as a ‘means of exchange’, it can be far better understood as a product in of itself. A product that is bought and sold at a price determined by market forces, just like any other(take the dollar as an example here). Can an economics education that doesn’t really factor this in be considered fit for purpose? The world is messy and complex...

Governments: Fostering Crises and Stifling Entrepeneurs? An Evening With Matthew McCaffrey

On the Monday of December 5th we were joined by Matthew McCaffery for a low down and discussion of the famous and influential ‘Austrian’ school of economics. A school that builds up it’s analysis of the economy from the ground up, highlighting the importance of entrepeneurship, and the motivations and actions of individuals in the shaping of the economy. Although of course, to give a brief summary risks misrepresenting it, so for more details of what this school is about, and for an idea of how it analyses the world, you’d do well to look at a few of Matthew’s publications: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/matthew.mccaffrey/publications . The Austrian school struck us as having pretty watertight and often quite radical arguments. Matthew had strong responses for all our criticisms, one response that stood out especially was the response to the central argument of Mariana Mazzucato’s book the Entrepeneurial State, put forward by someone in the back rows. For many of us in the room the book is very much a knock out argument that reaffirms an idea that state intervention has been the most important force in our economic progress. Let’s just say that Matthew’s response ‘sent us back to the drawing board’ slightly. As we were very happy to see at PCES, the school had some interesting analysis on the role of debt, finance and money in the economy. Things that we can reasonably say are not heavily featured in mainstream economics. Some of us came in with preconceived ideas about the content of the talk, assuming it might be perhaps slightly right wing and even slightly inhumane. This was not the case, a strong...

The Econocracy: Manchester Book Launch

Recently, Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins presented the central arguments of their book, The Econocracy, to a packed room in Uni Place. Noone could debate that these three had really thought this all out. Challenges were met always with referral back to the core message of the student movement, one which appeared more than ever to be uncontroversial. The room seemed engaged and respectful of the message. Present were all kinds of people of different ages and voices, ranging from one man who semi-jokingly suggested that economics as an entity might reasonably be discarded of, given it’s apparent uselessness in understanding the world. We had an engineering professor who proposed most enthusiastically that there should be a charter, similar to most professions. Such a charter would likely see countless economists struck off following 2008 of course, the thought of which elicited a chuckle from the audience. This proposition did seem to have a certain strength to it somehow. It stood out when Francesca in the work of PCES, rather than satisfying our youthful urge to ‘smash things up’, we instead reason and establish a dialogue with, the economics department and university at large. Rather than just expressing our frustrations to the good pedestrians of Oxford Road. This observation seemed particularly meaningful given the composition of the room where we had economics professors, administrators and general serious-looking adults. I was talking to a social anthropology professor in front of me who was most vociferous about how he thinks that social anthropology is in a similar state to economics. He talked of there being very specific case studies with...

The Recent Trip to Edale

  The society’s recent trip to Edale was comforting. Set in the distinctly non-urban environment of the peak district, ‘delegates’ from societies similar to our own all came to the lodge. It was comforting to know that we were not remotely alone in our cause: there were groups attending from London to Aberdeen and most places in between. All sharing the same vision of a more pluralistic economics, providing great opportunities to bounce ideas off eachother. Similar to other events we’ve had, we got a sense that we are putting into practise the pluralism that we talk so much about, by actually getting together and holding reasoned debates on the subject. It was felt that we had created a hub that could cement the movement nationwide and internationally by providing a kind of informal headquarters. This cementation is vitally important of course, when groups such as ours campaigning for curriculum reform are constituted of students who, of course, graduate after 3 or 4 years. Thus, the Rethinking Economics hub helps towards ensuring that the movement does not run out of steam. There should always be an organized voice for students expressing their discontents at the way they are being taught. And more broadly there should be that voice that challenges an established approach to economics that has been shown to be limited in its utility for understanding the world. Let’s not forget that this society and movement in general only really started post-crash, the ‘crash’ being in 2008, when many of us currently in the society were about 12. This weekend gave us a real sense of how far we have come...

What You Won’t Learn In An Economics Degree: The Workshop

On the evening of Tuesday the 27th of September, the society held a workshop to discuss topics that we believe should be studied as part of an economics degree. We had tables discussing the recent Rio Olympic games, tax havens, the role of the IMF and World Bank and the possibility of a basic income. The debates got heated at times, with people polarising on either side of the argument, disagreeing at times on the most fundamental premises of eachother’s argument. These topics stimulated a discussion of questions that cut to the very numb of economic thought. Questions like: who creates wealth? What motivates people? And who deserves this wealth? In discussing these topics themselves and getting such well thought out and articulate responses from students, many of them first years, to us here at PCES confirmed our conviction that economics should be more pluralistic, quite because people are capable of making valuable contributions to these debates, despite not being a qualified economist. While there was much disagreement over the topics themselves, there was no disagreement over the importance of discussing them and what can be gained by the very process of debating them. One student said that: ‘I think this makes you better at thinking’, and she wasn’t the only one who picked up on the critical thinking development. Others picked up on the communication and arguing skills that would be developed by this kind of approach. These are the kind of skills that really help you out in the working world as we’re sure a lot of major employers would agree. Sadly, we did seem to be...

Gender Challenges by Bina Agarwal

I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Gender Challenges earlier this month. Gender Challenges is a monumental three-volume compendium of selected papers written by Bina Agarwal over three decades and published by Oxford University Press. This impressive body of work examines gender inequality in different countries and communities, relating to agriculture, food security, property, land rights, and the environment, and how policy makers can tackle them. Bina, a Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the Global Development Institute of the University of Manchester approaches these issues from a gender perspective and challenges mainstream assumptions in the social sciences and policy. She rightly uses both qualitative and quantitative analysis. The issues are not simply presented as economic ones. Bina uses many disciplines from the social sciences and also law to examine gender inequalities and suggest workable solutions. Reading the work, what first struck me was the variety of ways women are affected globally and the inadequate one-size-fits-all approach of policy makers in these countries. The first volume looks at agriculture, technology and food security and covers her writings from 1981 to today. In the early years, agricultural growth was made possible by the Green Revolution but women’s role was ignored. A key assumption questioned by Bina is the idea that women are less efficient than men in farming, and the attributing of the gender wage gap to productivity differences rather than to gender discrimination. These assumptions are also challenged by her using data from an experiment with potato-digging equipment which found that women are more efficient than men in doing the same job: they took 69 hours...

Britain’s Future in the EU

The PCES held our first event of the second semester on the topic of “Britain’s Future in the EU”. We felt that the economic arguments needed clarifying for such an important decision for the UK. The event seen us joined by Dr Swati Dhingra, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and John Springford, from the senior fellow from the Centre for European Reform which is a think tank that wants to make the EU work better. Both were in favour of the EU, though this was not by choice but rather necessity, with speakers from the Brexit side of the EU being either unavailable or unwilling to speak at our event. The event began with Dr Dhingra talking about the economics of the single market, stating that the “economic consequences of leaving the EU are less contentious than the political ones”. The focus was on the referendum of the past and what we have learnt from it through the data. Consumers, businesses and workers have benefited from when the UK joined the single market in 1973 through a decrease in prices for consumers, the easier access to the European market for businesses and the rise in wages for workers. The analysis then moved on to UK trade, centring around the EU being the UK’s biggest trading partner when looking at exports . It was argued that the comparable advantage that the UK has in services and the growth of the services industry and that in the years to follow the EU services industry will grow which will lead to further increases in exports to the EU . Leaving...

Upcoming Events

We post information on all of our upcoming events on our Facebook page.