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.

Covering the first in-person IMF in three years

Phil joined the team from GlobalMarkets newspaper to help edit the coverage of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These were the first in-person meetings since 2019, as the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced them to be held virtually.

There was a strong feeling among organisers, visiting delegates and media and NGOs that the opportunity to meet and interact made the in-person meetings vastly superior to the virtual ones. That was especially important in October 2022 because of the confluence of a set of major crises including the food shortage, the fuel price surge, the wider inflationary spike, the debt problems facing many low- and middle-income countries and the war in Ukraine.

Phil helped edit the three daily papers that were printed live in Washington, DC, and distributed to the meeting venues and the hotels where delegates were staying. He also wrote two features looking ahead to the challenges facing the IMF and the World Bank.

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Feature on an organic vineyard in Belgium

Chicago Booth’s magazine commissioned Phil to look at an organic vineyard launched by three MBA graduates from the business school. He spoke to the founders: Michel Schoonbroodt, Didier Jacques, and Philippe De Prins about their decision to embark on the project after each had enjoyed a successful careers in finance over the previous decades.

They told him about the five years of hard work, the ups and downs in the journey, and how their experience and knowledge acquired at Chicago Booth helped them achieve success.

The first harvest at the organic vineyard yielded 6,000 bottles of still and sparkling white wine in 2020. One of those wines, called Les Rémouleurs, or “knife grinders,” is on the wine list at La Canne en Ville, a Brussels restaurant with a Michelin star. The vineyard will host the Family Day of the Booth Alumni Association on September 11, 2021.

Asked what advice he has for recent Booth graduates, Schoonbroodt says: “Don’t be afraid of doing something new. It’s only difficult the first time: the second time will be easier, and the third time easier again.” The article is here.

Covering EBRD annual meetings for Global Markets

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Phil contributed analysis pieces to the coverage of the annual meetings of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in May by Global Markets magazine. The meetings were held in May 2022 as the military attacks by Russia on Ukraine were well into their third month.

One piece looked at the likely negative impact that the conflict would have not only on Russia and Ukraine but on the EBRD’s central and eastern European (CEE) region. A partner piece examines the impact on inflation and interest rates in the region.

A key element of that is the likely disruption to regional and global oil markets which this piece looked at. While oil price rises will cause problems for many CEE countries, Russia and Ukraine’s place in global food markets will cause major problems and misery for countries on the North African fringe of operations. This piece looks at that.

The EBRD is one of many international financial institutions to have offered to increase funding for projects in Ukraine: this piece looked at who has given what, and how much the likely final bill will be.

Finally, there may be some glimmer of hope from the unity that the conflict seems to have inspired within the European Union and NATO. This piece looks at how this might bring together the EBRD’s shareholders and recipient countries 31 years after its foundation in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Digitalisation and emerging markets for OMFIF magazine

Phil was invited to research an article for a magazine published by the Digital Monetary Institute at the thinktank OMFIF that is looking at the future of capital markets in 2022. It focused on how digital finance offers hope of internationalising emerging markets.

It looked at how international financial institutions are examining the potential of the ongoing revolution in digital money to enable emerging markets and developing countries to participate more in both local currency and international capital markets.

Phil spoke with experts at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements.

The article looks at the ways in which digital finance has changed the ways that policymakers in emerging and developing are adapting to allow the creation of digital money channels in their economies and the benefits they bring in terms of financial access and inclusion. It also looks at how international financial institutions can work with EMDCs to make the step up from personal finance towards using digitalisation to improve the way they issue debt on the capital markets. It looks at both opportunities and threats in a wide-ranging discussion.

The long-form article can be found here.

Working with the CORE project on economics education; RES article

Phil has been working with the team behind the CORE Project, which promotes economics teaching motivated by addressing pressing real-world problems using the best economic
research. CORE had produced three textbooks, available free online to students, that show a new way of teaching and learning economics, using the best research to address the world’s most pressing problems.

The project’s websites highlights the 380 institutions across the world are using CORE in teaching 115,000 students each year. Phil has written profiles of several dozen institutions across the world. These include universities in the developing world such as the American University of Afghanistan, emerging market universities including the University of Cape Town, and longstanding advanced economy colleges such as the University of Oxford and Duke University in the US.

More recently, a new centre in the Department of Economics at University College London is being set up to develop novel research and education initiatives, focusing on the causes and consequences of wealth concentration. One aim of the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Centre on Wealth Concentration, Inequality and the Economy is to support the CORE Project.

The centre’s co-director is Wendy Carlin, Professor of Economics at UCL and Director of
CORE. In an article for the January 2022 edition of the Royal Economic Society newsletter, she told Phil that the centre will have a very active visitor programme on the education and the research side, and every research activity is going to have an education component.

Co-director and also Professor at Economics at UCL, Imran Rasul, said that UCL can become a hub for new thinking about the deep underlying features of the economic system that drive
inequalities of different types, and for analysing what might be done about them.

The Centre will have resources to fund PhD students and post-doc positions, provide grants
for data and research projects, and finance visits to the other five Stone Centres in the US and France.

Contribution to FT’s annual UK economic survey

Phil was one of almost 100 economists and analysts asked to submit their answers to three questions about the outlook for the UK economy in 2022. The questions and (edited) answers were:

1. Will the UK economy outpace or lag behind other developed economies in 2022 and why? “Lag behind. In 2022 (as in 2020) economic performance will be driven by the response to the next evolutions of the coronavirus pandemic and by the endogenous state of the economy. At the turn of the year, the reaction function appears damaged with politicians contradicting scientists and politicians with the ruling party disagreeing with others, quite fundamentally. .”

2.To what extent will the Bank of England be in control of inflation by the end of 2022? ” In control. Inflation will peak in the spring following the restoration of the VAT rate for the hospitality sector and another big rise in the energy price cap.”

3.  To what extent will the UK look like a high wage, high productivity economy at the end of 2022 — and will people feel better or worse off than they do now? ” People will feel worse off, certainly by the middle of the year as inflation continues to rise, energy prices rise, and incomes flatline amid little evidence of pay rises responding to higher prices. The second half may see an improvement and the data for living standards may be better year-on-year in Dec 2022 but it is unclear whether consumers will actually register that. .”

The full responses are here.

Natural experiments in economics: a blog for the Lindau Nobel Foundation

Three professors who have spent their careers carrying out experiments in real life is the mark of the supremacy of the so-called “credibility revolution” in economics were awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in November 2021.

David Card, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shared the prize with Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Joshua Angrist and Stanford University professor Guido Imbens. Half of the prize was awarded to Card and the other half jointly to Angrist and Imbens.

For three decades they led the charge away from a focus on economic theory towards showing what conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn from natural experiments — real-life situations where chance events or policy decisions create similar conditions to those of a clinical trial.

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.

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.