Tim Besley's picture
Affiliation: 
London School of Economics
Credentials: 
Professor of economics and political science

Voting history

Are academic economists ‘in touch’ with voters and politicians?

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Question 2: What do you think is the most likely reason that a majority of UK voters went against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
A. Non-economic reasons more important
Confidence level:
Confident

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Question 1: Do you agree that the economics profession needs an institutional change that promotes the ability to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and the public at large and to make clear when economists have a united view; and do you agree that we need to introduce leadership to help achieve this improvement through coordinated efforts?

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Answer:
Agree
Confidence level:
Very confident
Comment:
We have to begin from the premise that economists do not speak with one voice. Even on Brexit, there were differing views on the important issues and the magnitudes involved. The fact that they pointed in the same direction for the most part was the main salient fact. The aim should never be to converge on specific predictions but where the balance of probabilities lies. There is no natural vehicle for creating an institutional opinion except for the kind of informal collaborations that occurred. Professional associations such as the Royal Economic Society, British Academy or Econometric Society are rightly set to avoid taking policy positions which would in the end destroy these organizations if people started joining based on whether or not they agreed with the policy stances on particular issues. In hindsight, HMT should have set up an expert body drawn from a range of respected economic experts and asked them to look at the evidence before the referendum -- that would be the institutional solution I would favour. The landscape was just too diffuse for effective communication and the risk associated with publicly-funded bodies too great. The LSE growth commission recommended establishing a standing commission looking at long-term economic evidence and issues which was independent of government and could offer advice on a range of long-term policy-making. We thought that the learned academies (British Academy, Royal Society etc.) would be the right place to start this given their long-standing links to BIS. Had such a body existed, it could have served the role that I mentioned above.

Devolving Income Tax Powers within the UK

Question 1: Do you agree that the economic benefits of devolving full income tax powers to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly outweigh the possible costs?

Answer:
Disagree
Confidence level:
Extremely confident
Comment:
There is a strong argument for regional devolution in the UK. The mayoral model is not great (on the whole "Presidential politics" is a poor model). The property tax base should be devolved to regional parliaments but income tax variation should be minimal (and would be administratively complex). People, goods and capital are mobile across the UK so best to keep income tax, VAT and corporate taxes in the hands of national government. But full flexibility in relation to property taxes would make sense. There is a good case for devolving health, education, transport and infrastructure spending to regional governments. National priorites are welfare/pensions, defence, foreign policy, and science should stay with the Westminster parliament along with most forms of regulation and competition policy.

Question 2: Do you agree that that there is a clear economic case for establishing "English votes for English laws" with the same tax and spending powers as the Scottish Parliament?

Answer:
Strongly Agree
Confidence level:
Extremely confident
Comment:
But the devil is in the details. This needs institutional reform -- regional parliaments (5-8 would be a sensible number) would be my preference rather than having a two-tier Westminster parliament. City regions makes little sense unless the core governance is regional parliaments.

Secular Stagnation

Question 2: Do you think that current structural and fiscal policies should place a considerably greater emphasis on pushing the natural rate into positive territory?

Answer:
Disagree
Confidence level:
Not confident

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