About clarityeconomics

Phil Thornton is lead consultant at Clarity Economics, a consultancy and freelance writing service he set up after a 15-year career as a newspaper journalist. Clarity Economics (www.clarityeconomics.com) looks at all areas of business and economics including macroeconomics, world trade, financial markets fiscal policy, and tax and regulation. He has written for a range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Financial Director, Emerging Markets, City AM and PM-Select. He writes a regular economics column for Procurement Leaders. Recent projects include a series of report looking at the position of ethnic minority groups within the UK workforce for Business in the Community; drawing up proposals for reform of the EU Budget for Business for a New Europe; and an examination of lessons learned 20 years after Big Bang for The Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation. In 2010 he won the Feature Journalist of the Year award in the WorkWorld Media Awards. In 2007 he won the title of Print Journalist of the Year in the same awards. Until 2007 he was Economics Correspondent at The Independent newspaper of London, a post he held for eight years.

Writing and editing at the virtual IMF/ World Bank annual meetings

Phil helped organise the coverage by the magazine GlobalMarkets of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank that were held in October 2021. First the second time the annual meetings had to be held virtually because of the coronavirus. This means that the newsroom existed only on Microsoft Teams with editors and journalists reporting from various locations. We built on our experience of 2020 to interact with the organised events through virtual platforms. The newspaper was published as a PDF rather than printed and distributed manually.

He wrote two features analysing key issues that came up at the meetings of the finance ministers and central bankers of the 187 member countries. The first look at the future that surrounded accusations that IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva had put pressure on staff to alter data on China when she was CEO at the World Bank. The feature was converted into a news story as the issue was resolved in Georgieva’s favour on the eve of the start of the meetings. The story is here.

The other looked at the agenda that experts believe that World Bank president David Malpass should pursue to ensure that the multilateral lender remains relevant in the post-Covid era. At its heart is the need for a massive replenishment of the finances of the International Development Association, its arm that gives grants and makes loans to the poorest countries. The story is here.

The series of ‘Voices’ pieces for The Independent

Phil was asked to reprise his role as economics and business comment writer for the Voices section of The Independent platform to cover an absence in the summer, starting on 14 June. The first piece looked at the long-term economic implications of the latest G7 summit held in Cornwall on the previous weekend.

The first piece looked at the economic elements in the communique – rather than the shorter-term political arguments over the North Ireland protocol that tarnished the mood between the UK, the US, and European leaders. It looked at the importance of their decisis on vaccines and taxation.

While the promises of a billion vaccines to be donated by the rich countries, this is well short of the 11 billion that the World Health organization has highlighted. The modest response ignores the economic reality that the International Monetary Fund has explained – that a $50 billion investment in vaccines now to ensure the world is vaccinated would deliver a dividend of $9 trillion by 2025.

On the idea of a minimum corporate tax rate regime, this time there was little detail where the devil is the detail. Issues such as which companies this would apply to and the tax base that would be covered were not discussed. But, on a positive note, at least the an economically literate US president attended the talks. The piece is here.

The second piece looked at the latest inflation figures and the reinvigorated debate over when interest rates will next rise. It points out that will be a sterile debate unless there is a focus on ensuring that the recovery if based on highly productive and well-paid jobs. Otherwise people emerging from furlough will only find low-page insure work that will provide little protection as process and borrowing costs rise. The piece is here

Will Covid-19 cause the next financial crisis?

The Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning commissioned research into the way that the deadly Covid-19 disease has changed the way millions of office workers do their jobs and live their lives and the impact on the property market in the Uk and Europe.

The article looked at the extent to which firms are looking to cut their real estate footprint, and investment institutions forecast that demand for office space might fall up to 35% exacerbated by rising insolvencies.

It found that the knock-on effects from a crisis in the property-related debt market could prove disastrous – unless the government takes action. It concluded that there has been insufficient discussion of the financial help that will be needed if a health crisis turns into a financial catastrophe for owners, investors, and lenders. Now is the time to start planning for that.

The article is here.

Joining Oxford Economics after 14 years of consultancy

Almost 14 years to the day that I left The Independent newspaper in January 2007 to start a career as an independent writer, analyst, and consultant on economic and financial issues I have taken up a new role. I will be working four days a week as Economics Editor at Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis.

The role is to oversee and improve the accuracy, clarity, and presentation of itskey project deliverables across multiple formats — from professionally designed reports and infographics to PowerPoint presentations and short animated videos. I will get to work with senior project managers, economists, and econometricians to ensure their analytical insights are expressed as concisely and compellingly as possible.

I will be working four days a week (currently from home) and will use the remaining day to maintain Clarity Economics. The last 14 years have been an extraordinary journey enabling me to work for many companies, law firms, trade associations, and even the then-Foreign & Commonwealth Office in support of the G20 London Summit. I have also written for a range of newspapers and magazines.

I am sure that the next 14 years will be just as fulfilling.

Auctions and why they matter: a write up for Lindau Nobel Foundation

US academic Robert B. Wilson and his long-time collaborator and friend – and now neighbour – Paul R. Milgrom, won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences this year for their work on auction theory and how to improve them in action.

In the official announcement, the members of the Prize Committee said the pair’s insights had led to the design of new auction formats for goods and services that are difficult to sell in a traditional way, such as radio frequencies. Their discoveries have benefited sellers, buyers and taxpayers around the world, they said.

In a blog for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Foundation, which in normal years gathers together around 30-40 Nobel Laureates in Lindau to meet the next generation of leading scientists, I pulled together all the many tributes that poured in from fellow experts and collaborators in the field who believed that the joint award as highly deserved. The article is here.

Insight into first-year econ undergrads’ key priorities

Every year the CORE Project, the team behind the campaign to radically transformed economics education, asks teachers at the universities that use their free textbooks to survey their first-years about what they see as the key economic issues.

This year the top issue is inequality, as it has been since the starting polling in 2016. This year that was closely followed by Covid-19, climate change, and unemployment – reflecting the problems that they hope the economics profession can explain and solve. Note that the traditional obsessions of orthodox economists (inflation, equilibrium,supply/demand, inflation) are way down the list.

COREproduce word clouds for the aggregate conclusions from all 17 universities that took part as well as individual word clouds from the cohorts from North America, Europe and Asia. My blog summarising the findings can be found here

Impact of President-elect Biden on multilateral banks

The imminent departure of Donald Trump from the White House has raised the question of the role that Joe Biden will play as the leader of the single largest shareholder in the multilateral financial institutions. These include the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and the regional development banks. Leading analysts told me there are grounds for optimism over enhanced debt relief for the poorest countries, recapitalisation of many IFIs and further action on the climate change agenda. The article is here.

Writing and editing at the virtual IMF/ World Bank annual meetings

Phil helped organise the coverage by the magazine GlobalMarkets of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank that were held in October 2020. First the first time the meetings had to be held virtually because of the coronavirus. This means that the newsroom existed only on Microsoft Teams with editors and journalists reporting from various locations. We had to learn how to interact with the organised events through virtual platforms. The newspaper was published as a PDF rather than printed and distributed manually

He wrote two features analysing key issues that came up at the meetings of the finance ministers and central bankers of the 187 member countries. The first looked at the how two institutions have responded to Covid-19 and how their leaders, Kristalina Georgieva at the IMF and David Malpass at the Bank, have kep the multilateral flames alive (here); the second looked at how central banks have looked at changing their strategies in the face of unexpected consequences of their extraordinary and unconventional policy responses here.

He also wrote a number of news stories including: a call for the World Bank toi use a special purpose vehicle to deliver shareholders’ cash to help relieve poor countries of their debt obligations to the bank (here); and a warning from criticis of the IMF that fund is pushing countries to impose austerity measures as part of their bailout funds here.

Report on the G20 for the Atlantic Council

Phil was commissioned by the Atlantic Council, the US non-partisan thinktank, to produce a report ahead of the Group of 20 finance ministers and heads of leaders’ summit in 2020. the report was based on his in-depth interviews with 10 senior directors at the council as well as a large amount of background material and research.

The report was aimed to be a concise explanation of the issues that the politicians and their advisers would need to deal with and advice on how to ensure that the summits are a success at such a crucial time for the world’s economy, health security and long-term sustainability.

At its heart is the idea that the G20 is the only body with the clout to save the global economy and that only by focusing on cooperation and consensus combined with pragmatic leadership by the United States can it succeed in that mission. The link to the report is here.




Strengthening external communications at NIESR

Phil acted as a media consultant at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research to help the communications team boost the profile of the academic think tank. During the five months from November to late March, he assisted with the existing media coverage programme and focused on expanding the range and penetration of the media’s coverage of its activities.

This has centred around using three key events – the General Election, our quarterly National Institute Economic Review, and the Budget – as a platform to push out material based on our economists’ and scientists research. This resulted in a sizeable number of articles placed in media, interviews by journalists and appearances on TV and radio news programmes as well as major take-up of social media.

The team created a microsite on our website dedicated to the Election Analysis to house nine election briefings by NIESR staff in later November and early December in the run-up to the 11 December polling day. It worked with EconFilms to produce six video-casts by NIESR staff and curated five podcasts by NIESR staff. On the back of these, it was able to pitch opinion pieces that ran in various media.

Britain after Brexit. As there was no funding for new research, the team aimed to maximise NIESR’s economists’ research and knowledge to put out opinion articles for mainstream media and make them available for interview.

February saw the publication of the centrepiece quarterly publication, the National Institute Economic Review. This was covered widely in the media following a press conference organised in media and as a result of pitches to both print and broadcast media. It also led to a number of appearances on radio, opinion columns by NIESR staff and mentions in opinion pieces written by others.

The Budget. The team planned for this set-piece event by identifying issues that were likely to feature in the Budget and in which staff had expertise. This led to placed articles ahead of the Budget and major pick-up of the new forecasts. The institute published a booklet of collated reactions on the afternoon of the Budget.

Coronavirus. Although this became a major economic issue in mid-March, the team was able to promote material written on the issue.