Recently, the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) celebrated its 21st Birthday by holding a series of lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, gave the first lecture on the state of the world economy. Last Tuesday, the second lecture of the series was given by Professor John Van Reenen on the topic of restoring economic growth.
The Economics Network received an invitation to attend both lectures, and as a new guy on the job, I was appointed to go. However, being a second year student with a very busy schedule means I could only attend one of the lectures. Since I was doing economic growth as part of my macro course, I decided to go to the latter lecture.
I arrived in London quite late, but managed to quickly find my way to the lecture theatre in the LSE’s Old Building where the talk was held. The CEP has reserved a front row seat for me, so not only did I have the best view; I also managed to take many photos. There was a brief introduction of John Van Reenen by Stuart Corbridge before the lecture started.
John divided the lecture into three sections: the problems we currently face, the sources of growth and the policies we need. He started by saying the beginning of the current recession was a lot worse than the Great Depression; however, the government has not made the same mistakes it did in the 20s. Bank capitalisation, loose monetary policy and stimulus packages instead of spending cuts and tax raises have resulted in a much faster recovery for the UK. He also stressed that accelerated budget cuts proposed by the current coalition government will harm the economy in both short and long terms.
The three main sources of growth identified by John in his lecture were: technological innovation, management practices and microeconomic structural reforms. The main accent was made on the link between productivity and management. John argues that productivity growth is what matters, not absolute growth of GDP. Increases in productivity will drive real wages and consumption up, which in turn can
facilitate distribution. He also made a very interesting point about happiness. Current economic theory focuses on maximising income and consumption, but John thinks that after a certain level, addition to growth will not lead to more happiness. In my opinion, this is definitely something economists could focus more on.
He went on to analyse productivity in the UK. According to the findings, the UK’s relative productivity has improved compared to France and Germany. However, there is still a big gap relative to the US. John argues that this is all down to management practices. His data shows that the US has very few badly managed firms, hence, it has high productivity. On the other hand, in developing countries where there are many family businesses, management is much worse. John thinks that competition in the labour market ultimately leads to better selection of managers, which has a great impact on how firms’ productivity.
So what can we do to restore growth? The lecture concludes that structural reforms and macro policies should do the trick. Things like competition policy, public sector planning and better human capital management at the low end (apprenticeship scheme) are going to improve productivity in the long run. Finally, John argues that the austerity measures proposed by the current government will affect long-term employment as private sector cannot speedily adjust to the fiscal shock.
Here are the links to the webcasts of the two lectures if you want more:
About the CEP
The CEP is an interdisciplinary research centre at the LSE Research Laboratory. It was established by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in 1990 and is now one of the leading economic research groups in Europe. Its current Director is Professor John Van Reenen.
The CEP studies the determinants of economic performance at the level of the company, the nation and the global economy by focusing on the major links between globalisation, technology and institutions (above all the educational system and the labour market) and their impact on productivity, inequality, employment, stability and wellbeing. Its researches have affected numerous Labour policies, in particular the apprenticeship scheme.