Recent Cakeeconomics Event

Two things marked the evening of our Cakeconomics event: fascinating insights from the speakers and a massive sugar rush. We had Martin Hess, an academic here at Manchester giving us a mini-lecture based on a theory by G.L. Clark about what characterizes the flow of money around the world. And Simon Edelston, who gave us some geographical indicators that he looks out for as an investment banker. The main thrust of Martin Hess’ talk was that the way that money flows around the world is consistent with mercury: in clumps and very fast. Symbolising the lightning speed with which transactions take place and the tendency of money and wealth to concentrate and then swiftly move on, which, combined with other factors, throws up problems. The main thrust of Simon Edelston’s talk was on demographics as an indication of a country’s future success and as such, it’s suitability for investment. Edelston, in some ways contrary to Hess, did overall come out ‘in defence’ of global capitalism. Which was refreshing because it created a little controversy(often little controversy is created at our events). Much discussion was had over the cake, again constituting a fun and pluralistic approach to economics. Raised in the talks were questions central to the study of economics and yet there was not a formula in sight. PCES are holding a conference on the 18th and 19th of March(this Saturday and Sunday) on the ‘Big Questions’ of economics. Many high profile and very interesting speakers will be attending. Tickets are still available, so have a look on the Facebook page. We hope to see you there!...

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...

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...