Past Events

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...

PCES Event: Can People’s QE Fix Britain?

Last week, PCES hosted a panel debate on Jeremy Corybn’s proposed ‘People’s QE’ (PQE), which would see the Bank of England (BoE) create money electronically and use it to fund public projects such as infrastructure spending, or possibly send cheques to peoples’ homes, in an effort to stimulate the economy. Speaking on the panel were Frances Coppola, former financier and well-known blogger; James Meadway of the New Economics Foundation (NEF); and Chris Giles of the Financial Times (FT). The full talk is available in the embedded video below: Giles opened with a brief but interesting discussion of PCES in general, saying that he believes orthodoxy should always be open to challenges – even if the alternatives aren’t necessarily better. Leading on from this he said he welcomed these kinds of debates about ‘unorthodox’ monetary policy, but thought that PQE was not a good proposal. He argued that Corbyn and other PQE adherents such as Richard Murphy had not made it clear exactly when PQE would be needed – in recessions or as a permanent policy – and he argued that they PQE conflated a number of different issues such as the need for stimulus in a recession; the need for improvement in Britain’s infrastructure; BoE independence; and the debate over unorthodox monetary policy. He finished by pointing out that in many ways conventional QE had achieved many of the goals of PQE, allowing the government to finance its deficits with BoE-created money. Coppola agreed with many of Giles’ points, although she stressed that conventional QE hadn’t been benign and could have been carried out better, since the BoE admitted that it has benefited the wealthiest, asset-owning...

PCES Events: “This House Believes That Mainstream Economics Has Failed”

Toward the end of the Easter term, PCES hosted an debate in conjunction with the Manchester Debating Union (MDU) over the proposition “This House Believes That Mainstream Economics Has Failed”. Defending the proposition were supposed to be Frances Coppola, associate editor at Pieria, and James Meadway of the New Economics Foundation. Sadly, James couldn’t make it at the last minute due to being caught up in traffic in London, which left the defending side one short. Fortunately, PCES’ own Catriona Watson stepped in to argue against mainstream economics, though with only an hour or so to prepare her argument. In opposition were Dr Andrew Lilico, Executive Director and Principal of Europe Economics, and Dr John Ashcroft, Chief Economist at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. The vote beforehand was slightly in favour of the motion. Coppola opened, commenting that her critique concerned mostly macroeconomics: the DSGE and VAR models used to by economists and central banks on the run up to the financial crisis which failed to see them coming. She argued that one of the major failures of these models was the inability to take finance as a fundamental part of capitalism, often omitting it altogether, or at best adding it as a secondary concern. The models falsely saw money, debt and finance as a largely inconsequential ‘mask’ over the ‘real’ economy, causing them to miss the trouble brewing in the financial sector. Lilico then opened for the opposing team, stating that what he saw as the 4 major pillars of economics had remained in-tact following the financial crisis: the Modgliani-Miller theorem, the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), the Black-Scholes formula for option pricing and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis...

The Fall of Pluralism with Pat Devine

    PCES recently hosted University of Manchester lecturer Pat Devine, who spoke about the fall of pluralism in economics education at Manchester. He began by talking about how the crisis has shaken the economics profession and revealed the limitations of using only one methodology to understand the world. He then moved on to discuss Manchester specifically. He said that although the core of economics education was already mainstream by the time he started teaching, the department used to employ both heterodox and mainstream economists. This meant that heterodox perspectives such as institutional, post-Keynesian, Marxist and Austrian economics were often discussed and were sometimes available to study in-depth as optional units. Devine argued that there was not necessarily a direct effort to shed heterodox economists from the department, but that the increasing consolidation of the discipline as whole, as well as the increasing demands of research, pushed the department further and further toward homogenisation. He also commented on the negative effect the increase in student numbers has had on the scope for discussion and open ended questions, since it’s far easier to have a debate with a handful of students, and to mark masses of exams where the answers are either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Overall, he seemed to believe that the fall of pluralism was an unfortunate consequence of broad institutional and political changes, rather than a consequence of bad faith on the part of mainstream economists. Whatever the case, it’s clear that the contemporary campaign for pluralism will require a broad and concerted effort to reverse the trends identified by...

What You Won’t Learn In An Economics Degree: Ecological Economics

The UoM Post-Crash Economics Society were lucky to have Kate Raworth from the University of Oxford present her work on Ecological Economics. Ecological Economics is perhaps one of the most important ways of thinking alternatively about the economy, and creates a real conversation about sustainability and the economy’s place within the ecosystem. To view the economy as an ever expanding source of resources and focus our ambitions only on economic growth is futile, as the economy is bounded by the limits of the ecosystem imposed by nature. Raworth’s depiction of an ecological model of economics raised the important question as to whether there is a counter design to the current system of debt, money creation, maximising shareholder return and increasing productivity in the pursuit of economic growth.  Such debates stem from the concept that we should not only consider whether such economic growth possible, but whether this type of exponential growth should even be desirable. It terms of an ethical argument, the earth’s resources have been depleted by industrialisation, investment in profitable industries such as oil and gas, and other processes that have taken from and polluted the environment to improve material conditions for humans. There is a trade off between too much environmental degradation and providing for humans. Raworth proposes the “Doughnut Model” that concludes our sustainable solution is a middle ground between the two: using the Earth’s resources both efficiently and cautiously. The inside limit of the “doughnut” is social foundation; the outside limit is the environmental ceiling; and to go beyond these respective limits would be detrimental to either human and economic needs or the balance of the...

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