What’s the point of Economics

What’s the point of Economics was tonight’s talk in the new Cambridge University Festival of Ideas series,   a trioka of economists pontificated on the subject.

Michael Kitson, Evan Davis, Willy Brown

Evan Davis was first on, causing a  small cry of dissent from the packed lecture theatre  when he suggested that somehow economists should be treated like seismologists that is seismologists are not blamed for causing volcanoes – worryingly I think he thought it was a reasonable comparison (Maybe he should have gone to Ben Goldman’s talk on How the media promote public misunderstanding in science), then he suggested that economists are life’s reasonable people so perhaps he was joking after all.

Moving on he suggested that we all familarise ourselves with the wikipedia entries for:-

Then moving on to suggest that economics is studying the world through a prism of simplicity with currently to much emphasis on precision and forecasting & comparing economics to the stylised London Underground map simple but not geographically accurate. An excellent speaker with no powerpoint back up!

Next up was Michael Kitson who started up with the quote on economics by Thomas Carlyle -Dismal Science. He  then moved into audience participation with the  The Ultimatum Game, the most popular figure chosen was £50 whereas  apparently economists would predict 1p. Then he moved onto protectionism arguing that it is needed quoting from Kicking away the ladder by Chang then an interesting slide showing that Wal-mart was the biggest engine for growth in the USA (not the hi-tech industry). A good speaker with good use of powerpoint.

Finishing with Willy Brown outlining the effects of the National minimum wage in the 10 years of its operation in the UK. The most amazing for me was that the gender wage gap in low paid workers has been eliminated and that two million employees have benefited directly without any measurable impact on employment levels (contrary to the doom mongers on its introduction). A nice observation in his work at the minimum wage commission is just how badly managed most workers are.

In question time Evan Davis replied to one questioner with the rather good expression “The government should be a referee not a player”

A good evening the theatre was 100% full with a good mixture of people.

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