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...

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...

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...