Bristol Festival of Economics is part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. At this 6th annual festival, speakers included ITV's Robert Peston, Nobel prize-winners Michael Lewis and Jean Tirole, former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, former BBC Economics Correspondent Stephanie Flanders, Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the BBCs Rory Cellan-Jones and Hugh Pym, plus many other distinguished writers and university lecturers. Some of our Year 12 and 13 A level and IB students met up with Mrs Corrigan at some of the talks and debates.
All sorts of ideas were discussed. Inequality was a key theme, with the growing gap between rich and poor, especially in relation to wealth rather than income. House prices are to blame for a lot of this wealth inequality. Young people are earning less than before the crash of 08/09 and are paying high rents. The housing problem coupled with our benefits system makes it very hard for people to move to where the jobs are placed.
How do we manage globalisation (the free movement of goods, services and capital throughout the world) with its winners and losers? Investment in education, housing and technology is needed with co-operation nationally, locally and globally. We do not just need economic growth, but well-being and community as well. We have low unemployment now but what is the quality of the jobs created? What about the NHS? How should it be funded if we want more of it? The impact of robots and artificial intelligence on jobs in the future were also discussed.
What will our children need to study in the future? Degrees in Economics, Engineering and Ethics?
So what next? Lots of food for thought all round. As usual, there are more questions than answers.
For recordings of the talks see:
On Saturday 18th November 2017, the topic discussed at the Bristol Festival of Economics was, “Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Bypass the Home of the First?” The panel consisted of Jonathan Haskel (Imperial College London), Richard Jones (University of Sheffield), Maria Savona (University of Sussex), and Diane Coyle (University of Manchester), chaired by Rory Cellan-Jones (BBC). This talk covered the panel’s view on the advances in technology, its advantages and disadvantages, and whether the UK are prepared as a country.
Technology as a whole has become a significant part of people’s lives and have led to the development of new ideas, which in the past were not thought possible. However, there are several concerns of what the impacts of technology could be on people’s lives and global economies. For the UK, the labour market will be greatly impacted, as many jobs have and will be replaced by automation. In addition, there has been uncertainty of whether the UK is well placed to take advantage of this revolution. Diane Coyle mentioned that the national commitment, that we do not currently have, is to invest both private and public sector money, to get on with research and development of technology and foster creativity. We have the resources, but it is whether the government are committed to invest, as the private sector cannot do it alone. Towards the end of the talks, the audience had the chance to discuss and ask questions. Some questions asked were:
Should we step back from technology?
We are becoming very dependent on technology, such as relying on our phones to remember our contact numbers, or as a Satnav for directions. Therefore, some people may see technology as deskilling, but technology has encouraged creativity, relieved us of the tedious tasks or unwanted jobs as well as produce more jobs in the process.
Why did the first revolution work better compared to this one?
Obtaining the private investment today is much harder than the past, venture capital is not working and banks have little incentive to invest. The UK have an inappropriate financial system for innovation, and the main problem is that banks are less willing to invest in intangible assets. Banks are willing to invest in tangible assets, such as houses, but when faced with intangible assets, such as research and development into a new software, there is less incentive as they feel there is a greater risk.
Are you excited about the advances in technology?
The panel were all excited by advances in technology but emphasised that it needs to be steered in the right direction, and with a better financial system, could encourage the incentive to invest – it will not happen by itself. Technologies have the potential to improve environmental factors, such as global warming, and through this industrial revolution, better and more sustainable technology could be developed.
Gordon Brown delivered a fascinating and enlightening talk at the Bristol Festival of Economics. In his talk, he included many funny and personal anecdotes about his time in government.
Our personal favourite was when he was first elected as a Labour MP for Dunfermline East in 1983, the papers reported his age incorrectly as being in his late 70s when in actual fact he was only 32. This lead to reports that he had much more experience in politics than he did.
Relating to economics Gordon Brown spoke about Conservative party plans for universal credit, Brexit and the financial crash of 2008. Concerning universal credit, Gordon Brown stated it would cause “chaos and confusion” and would “do nothing” to alleviate poverty - this is whilst poverty figures in the South West are set to rise “from 1million to 1.2million”.
Relating to Brexit, Gordon Brown said that the nation continues to “suffer” due to “divisions in the Labour party”. He also said that Brexit will have damaging effects on economic growth of the UK and securing trade deals with individual countries will be a struggle.
Whilst talking about the financial crash of 2008, Gordon Brown spoke about involving many different countries in the world, not just those directly responsible - he spoke of the struggle in getting China to agree to help finance the aftermath of the crash.
Overall, it was an inspiring speech from a man who has accepted and learnt from his past mistakes and is now using his knowledge to try to prevent further unnecessary turmoil within our country and government.