Family team and group of millennial co-workers win economics prize

By agency reporter
July 16, 2019

Two radical plans for a step change in the quantity and quality of UK economic growth are joint winners of the inaugural Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR Economics Prize, with their authors dividing £100,000 between them.

A family team will receive £50,000 for their plan to enable faster growth through investment in the welfare state and human capital, while seven co-workers at an economics consultancy will share the same sum for their paper arguing that a “big push” towards decentralisation would unlock greater prosperity around all the UK.

The two winning teams produced what judges, chaired by Stephanie Flanders, head of Bloomberg Economics, decided were equal best answers to the question, “What would be your radical plan to force a step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth?”

Other judges were Dame Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing at Legal and General Investment Management; Lord John Eatwell, President of Queens’ College, Cambridge; and John Mills, founder and Chair of JML.

They looked for the best ideas to force a “step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth” – meaning that proposals must ensure fair and sustainable outcomes, including protecting the environment and reducing inequalities. The judges wanted creative thinking on whether the downward trend in the rate of UK economic growth could be reversed, as well as whether it was realistic, desirable and achievable for the UK economy to grow at 3 or 4 per cent in the 2020s.

Two further prizes of £25,000 were awarded: to the best under-25 entry, won by a Masters degree student at the Royal College of Art who proposed a new way to use the fruits of the digital economy to reduce working time; and to the overall runner-up entry, by two investment professionals who argued for a rebalancing of the UK economy to reverse low investment and productivity.

The winners were selected from among more than 200 who submitted initial 5,000-word outlines and a shortlist of 12 invited to submit more detail in longer papers up to 20,000 words.

Stephanie Flanders, Head of Bloomberg Economics, said: “We wanted to know not just what policies could raise the UK's growth rate, but how growth could translate into higher pay for ordinary households and reduced inequalities across regions and generations. We also wanted to know whether such proposals could accelerate decarbonisation and ensure that the UK meets its international commitments and responsibilities to present and future generations.

“The entries we received ranged from moonshot ideas to comprehensive plans. There were many creative approaches and we received highly developed technical proposals as well as ideas drawing on a range of disciplines. We decided to split the main prize between two excellent entries, but we congratulate and thank all who took part.”

Incentivising an Ethical Economics: A radical plan to force a step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth by Simon Szreter, Hilary Cooper and Ben Szreter, was a  joint first prize winner.

Simon Szreter, professor of history and public policy at Cambridge University, Hilary Cooper, an economics consultant, and their son Ben Szreter, chief executive of a community-based charity in Cambridge, debated the ideas behind their winning entry most evenings. This is the first time they had worked together as a team, and they were pleased to find that combining their differing professional approaches turned out to be more than the sum of the parts.

The judges said: “The authors draw on a historical analysis of the economy, looking at previous periods of British economic history to identify the enabling conditions for our most successful episodes of economic growth. Prescriptions include a new, equitable social contract alongside an intergenerational contract, incentivised and funded through tax changes, to re-establish the ethical principles on which the economic success of the Golden Age was built.

“They each brought their different perspectives to bear on their core idea, that economic growth has been historically highest when collective responsibility and welfare security is greatest – and this motivates their radical plan to incentivise altruistic economic behaviour today.”

The family said: "We’re really pleased that, in a world where economics seems to have increasingly veered towards models and mathematical abstractions, this prize has recognised the value of a different approach. Ours looks at history and how it can be applied to today’s practical challenges and brings the insights of political economy to propose a solution to the problems we face, especially the inequalities that threaten our productivity, our well-being and our democracy.”

Decentralising Britain: the ‘big push’ towards inclusive prosperity  by Romain Esteve, Martin Kabrt, Agata Makowska, Dano Meiske, Nick Robin, Farooq Sabri and Rhys Williams was the other joint first prize winner.

Seven colleagues at the London Economics consultancy, all in their twenties, developed their entry in their own time for many weeks before all their managers discovered why they were staying so late. Team members have previously worked or studied across Europe, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland and France.

The judges said: “The authors believe a new model is needed to unlock a step change in UK growth - one that includes ‘left behind’ communities and promotes the fundamental idea that decisions are best made by those directly affected by them. The essay sets out policies under the theme of decentralisation to radically restructure and rebalance the economy to achieve broad-based, long-term and more sustainable prosperity across all UK regions. These policies would be enacted not in a piecemeal fashion, but through a coordinated effort called the ‘Big Push’.”

Rhys Williams, one of the co-authors, said: “Our normal job is to evaluate other people’s policies, not produce our own. We decided to look at economic decentralisation and quickly realised a much wider approach was needed. Only a co-ordinated effort can correct the systemic weaknesses and inequalities of the UK. A policy of decentralisation, in the broadest sense, will lead to a more prosperous nation which is both more environmentally sustainable and less economically divided.”

The Under-25 winner was Automation and Working Time: How to reward digital labour by Bertie Wnek. Bertie Wnek works on gender economics as a member of the INET Young Scholars Initiative and is completing a Masters degree in writing at the Royal College of Art.

The judges said: “This is a creative and forward-looking assessment of the digital economy and how its fruits could be used to improve life through the reduction of working time. The author argues that the time we spend online is political: through our data we provide a product that is sold to generate profit. The entry sets out a plan to recapture some of this value through a digital labour tax, and to use the revenue to drive productivity improvements that can reduce the working week.”

Runner up was A Rebalancing Programme for Britain by Richard Plackett and Dr George Cooper. Richard Plackett was a leading investor in smaller UK companies over a 25-year career with major investment companies, and Dr George Cooper is chief investment officer of a company he co-founded and the author of two books on economics.

The judges said: “Our runner-up entry is focused on rebalancing the UK economy. The authors argue that low investment and low productivity sit at the heart of the UK’s low economic growth. They set out a plan for a sustained improvement in productivity growth, and an increase in investment by both private and public sector, through the consistent adoption over a long period of a set of polices to revolutionise the UK economy. These include a higher minimum wage, an active industrial strategy and competitive exchange rate policy.”

Carys Roberts, IPPR Chief Economist and Head of the Centre for Economic Justice, said: “In setting up this prize, we wanted to hear from a wide range of people with different types of expertise the best ideas to achieve "a step-change in both the quantity and quality of UK economic growth." The range of entries we received speaks to the depth and complexity of that challenge. The winning entries and IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice both demonstrate that rather than small tweaks or one silver bullet, the UK economy is in need of fundamental reform.

"We hope these winning submissions will open up a national conversation about the purpose and shape of our economy. If we're going to build an economy where prosperity and justice go hand in hand, we need rigorous and original ideas and for people across society to be part of that conversation.”

* Read the summaries of the four prize-winning and runner-up entries here

* Institute for Public Policy Research


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