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.

Blog called for IMF and World Bank to lead the lead on virus

Phil wrote a column for The Independent’s Voices section at the end of February urging the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to take up the leadership role that leaders such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson had failed to play. The piece urged them to repeat the role that the IMF played in 2008 in the wake of the global financial crisis where it pulled together the leaders of the G20 countries to take action. Fortunately IMF head Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank head David Malpass did exactly that in early March.

Filling in on economic news and comment at The Independent

Phil was honoured to be asked to help with writing news stories and comment pieces for The Independent while it recruited an economics editor.

Working on a part-time basis he wrote several stories on the UK, US and eurozone economies as well as specific areas such as the housing market, social patterns and the coronavirus.

He also wrote a weekly column for the website’s Voices section on a range os issues including a number that put behind its Premium paywall. these included a piece on social inequality seen through the lens of the film Parasite, the negative potential of the government’s migration proposals, and the current housing crisis seen over his 20 years of reporting on the issue.

Economic analysis of wider benefits of a start-up

We were asked to produced an analysis of the economic and social benefits derived from the creation of Containerville, a business workspace built from disused freight containers and based in a derelict site in east London.

We aggregated their records of the number of business that have set up, the number of people employed and put together a dataset on wage income, supply chain value and tax paid. We found that almost 350 jobs have been created by the companies at Containerville since it started in 2015, which have in turn helped to sustain other jobs in the area.

Using input-output tables from the Office for National Statistics, that translated into total annual earnings of £10.35m for a workforce that is made up predominantly of local residents. We estimate gross annual turnover of £78.8m coming into Containerville’s resident companies. Using an ONS multiplier of 1.54, we estimate that that activity brings a further £42.6m in indirect and induced benefit.

Containerville firms’ procurement budget is estimated at £35.2 m or £54.2m after applying the multiplier. Containerville also generates tax revenues. Income tax from workers is estimated at £2.07m a year while VAT receipts from businesses’ and employees spending amounts to another £2.07m.

There were also social benefits including supporting local shops and bringing life and spice to a formerly derelict land dominated by disused gasholders. Helping small businesses thrive is essential for creating jobs that are vital for people’s wellbeing and the establishment of strong and stable communities. It is easy to forget that giant corporations such as Amazon and Apple were themselves built on the success of small businesses using their platforms to sell their wares.

You can read the report here using Issu

Focus on Japanisation

Business Life, a Channel Islands-based magazine aimed at the financial sector, commissioned Phil to look at whether Europe was suffering from Japanisation – a structural shift to a low growth, low inflation near-zero interest rates that the Asian superpower has seen for almost 30 years.

He spoke to many analysts including Holger Schmieding at Berenberg Bank who disputed the idea that Japan was “suffering”, Andrew Milligan at Aberdeen Standard Investments looked at the impact on banks and advisers to high wealth individuals and Amit kara at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research highlighted the challenge that investment managers will face to secure higher yields in Europe and other Japanised economies.

The article is here.