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Prof M. E. Cox on “A new world economic order? Views from the LSE”

At the turn of the millennium in a building overlooking London’s Fleet Street, Jim O’Neill and colleagues at Goldman Sachs sat chewing on BRICs. Was BRIC just a clever catchphrase to explain where global investment prospects looked promising? Did it make good marketing sense to take a stance explicitly on Brazil, Russia, India, and China — with the risk that one’s views might then get obviously challenged by events? Why not simply dust off a variant of some broad generalization, say, “emerging markets”, and be done with it?

However the discussion went, in the event, the decision was to go ahead and proclaim BRICs the new global growth frontier.

In the decade since, the BRIC conceit has gone from strength to strength. It has figured not only in multi-billion dollar financial investments, but also—and perhaps even more importantly—in geopolitical analysis and international policy debate. The BRIC idea is now familiar to school-children worldwide, from Australia to Argentina — young people who were not yet born when the terminology was first hatched. In the reality (rather than just the idea) driven in part by charismatic leadership in different parts of the BRICs and in part by China’s staggering success in economic growth, poverty reduction, and export prowess, BRICs have robbed the US of its 21st-century unipolar moment, rewritten the rules of East-West global engagement, and reshaped the world’s patterns of trade, the world’s distribution of economic activity, and the world’s landscape of poverty.

The Economist newspaper: Asia's Economic Weight, 25 May 2010

The Economist newspaper: Asia's Economic Weight, 25 May 2010

Scholars of International Relations, International History, Global Governance, Management, and World Politics likely saw the coming shape of these new challenges far sooner than did other disciplines. Those scholars had grown up intellectually already familiar with Paul Kennedy and the rise and fall of great powers, with the Cold War struggle between East and West, with the promise of the US’s unipolar moment in global history. Such events and ideas had primed those scholars to grasp quickly the significance of BRICs.

In the guest post that follows, my good friend Professor Michael Cox of LSE’s International Relations Department describes a convergence between international relations, history, management, international development, and economics to help us understand the post-BRIC economic and political state of the world. He shows how putting together rigorous ideas from cross-disciplinary social science — something the LSE seeks to do more than perhaps any other academic institution in the world — we get better insight on the global economy. For me, his essay is more than just a description of what the LSE does; his essay establishes why to understand the new world economic order, it is essential to traverse many different social science disciplines.

“A new world economic order?  Views from the LSE” by Prof. M. E. Cox, December 2011

Memory can often play  tricks on even the most intelligent of  human beings, especially in an age of rapid unexpected change when all the  normal signposts have been removed or simply washed away by the tides of history. Certainly, for those who have grown up over the last ten,  turbulent years, the world today  is a very different looking place to what it was  back at the turn of the century. Indeed, inconceivable though it may seem now, most of us in the developed West were then in the best of moods – riding high on the back of three great revolutions in international affairs.

The first and most important of these  revolutions was of course the  final triumph of the  market in the wake of the global collapse of the centrally planned  alternative at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the nineties. Initially Poland and Central Europe, then Russia,  and finally even  ‘communist’  China,  discovered that they had no alternative but to   join the only economic club in town – the one run by the West, organized on western principles, and according to critics,  largely designed to further the interests of the West. Nobody liked to say it too loudly at the time for fear of sounding “triumphalist”.  But for many during the heady days of the 1990s it really did seem as if the West was  “best” and would, for this very obvious reason,  remain the axis around which the world would rotate for the foreseeable future.

The second great core assumption – born of a much longer revolution in world affairs – related to the United States, that most ‘indispensable’  of nations which instead of doing what all other great powers had done in the past (that is decline) did quite the opposite. In fact, the core belief  after the end  of the USSR was that we were now living in what Charles Krauthammer called a  “unipolar   moment”,   one which he felt  would endure for a great deal of time:  in part  because the US  could lay claim to  the most efficient economy in the world;  in part because it had constructed   the  greatest military ever known to man;  and in part because none of the other powers in the world   – China included – had any chance of ever catching up with the United States. A new Rome was sitting on the Potomac and hardly anybody, save the oddball and the eccentric,   doubted its capacity to remain the shining city on the hill for many decades to come.

The third important revolution was the one that had changed the face of Europe in 1989 when communism ignominiously collapsed leaving hardly anything behind it  except a lot of pollution, many unwanted tanks, and plenty of useless factories producing things that nobody wanted  to buy. The end of the Cold War was undoubtedly Europe’s great chance,  and its leaders back then – Jacques Delors in particular –  enthusiastically grabbed  at the  historic opportunity. What they created was impressive to say  the least. Indeed, by the beginning of the new century, Europe was becoming a serious point of global  reference  equipped with its own  currency, the largest market in the world, a lot  of  new members (not all of them perfect to be sure),  and the outlines  of a ‘Common Foreign and Security  Policy’ that would soon make it a major  player on the international stage. Even some Americans bought into this new vision, including, significantly,  Charles Kupchan former Director for European Affairs in the Clinton administration. America would not be the dominant  actor in the 21st century he opined. Nor China or the Islamic world. Rather the future belonged to an integrating, dynamic and increasingly prosperous   Europe. The next century was  its  for the taking.

How and why this optimism verging on the hubristic  turned into its opposite in the years between  2000 and 2010 has already been the subject of much feverish analysis and speculation. But at least  three  broad explanations have been advanced to help us think seriously about what Time magazine not long ago  characterized  as the  ‘decade from hell’.

One  explanation,  favoured by most by historians and social theorists,  relates the fall from grace to the much earlier triumph of the West and the extraordinary lack of caution this then seemed to induce amongst  most western policy-makers. Indeed,   having  won so much over such a long period of time stretching right back to the deregulating 1970s through  to  the  hyper-globalizing 1990s,  nothing now looked to be impossible. And  even the impossible now seemed achievable. The liberation of Iraq? No  problem said the all-powerful Americans with their invincible military machine.  Constant economic growth?  Easily achieved on the back  of cheap money  and ever more complex  financial instruments. Everybody a home owner?  Why not,  even if it meant a pile up of  unsustainable debt?  Economic crises? A thing of the past.  And the future?  Not perfect of course. But at least as perfect as it was  ever going to be in an imperfect world. Happy days were here again and nobody was prepared  to listen to naysayers like Dr Doom (aka Nouriel Roubini)   or his foreign  policy counterparts who warned that America’s unnecessary “war of choice” in Iraq would end up costing the US its international standing, a lot of blood,  and  a vast amount of  treasure ($3 trillion so far).

A second large explanation  connects more directly to  changes in the shape of the world  economy. Here,  Goldman Sachs does appear to have got it right back in 2001 when it predicted (against the then prevailing  orthodoxy) that the future belonged to the emerging  BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India, and of course,  China.  But what  Goldman  did not predict  however was  the sheer speed with which this shift was to take place and the  main  reasons why it did so. Goldman recall worked on a twenty five,  even a fifty  year time line: it also assumed steady growth for all countries in the international economy. What it did not anticipate  was firstly  the pace of China’s rise and the   impact this then had on the rest of the world economy; and  secondly  what happened  to the international financial system in  2008 when the established western economies suffered  a series of  smashing body blows. It was this ‘Black Swan’ event more than anything else that was to be the real turning-point. Before then the EU  and the US could legitimately claim  that they continued to represent the future. After 2008,  such a claim sounded frankly spurious.

The final reason for the great shift  had  less to do with economic shifts  and  more  with politics and  a  marked change in the capacity of governments to manage the world around them. Whether this happened  because of a decline in quality of the  political class, or because the world was becoming almost impossible to manage anyway,  remains a  moot question.  The fact remains that as the new century wore on it was becoming increasingly clear that  the West in particular was   facing a set of challenges to which it  simply did not have any easy answers. And nowhere was this becoming more apparent than  in that once “steady as she goes”, rather unexciting place,  known as the   European Union. The crisis began slowly but then accelerated most rapidly after 2008 leaving a trail of failed governments  in its wake (at least eight fell between 2008 and 2010). Nor was this all. As governments fell and the crisis deepened,  not only did belief in the European project  begin to ebb,  but  many began to wonder about normal politics itself. The situation was not much better in the United States either. Indeed, having elected a rather impressive man to the White House  in 2008,  three years on ordinary Americans were beginning to lose faith in the political process and  a belief in that very American idea that the future would always be better than the past.

We  live  in other words   not just in ‘interesting times‘,  but  in quite extraordinary times where few in the West  now  appear  to  have much confidence any longer in the notion of the West;  where policy leaders on both sides of the Atlantic realize how limited their options are;  where a once imperial America now talks in  humbling  terms of ‘leading from behind’ and adjusting to a new multi-polar world order;  and where few have any idea at all about what the seismic economic changes now taking place in the world economy  will mean for either global prosperity or international stability.

Time therefore to take time out to reflect on how these multiple and most unexpected changes  will impact on  the global political economy and the  business world. At least five questions need to be answered –  and will be,  we hope, in three innovative  courses to be delivered at the world famous LSE Executive Summer School in June 2012:

  1. Professor Saul Estrin and Professor Danny Quah,  A Shifting World Economy:  Business Strategies to Thrive
  2. Dr Andrew Walter and Dr Jeff Chwieroth,  Global Finance in Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Futures
  3. Dr. Gianluca Benigno and Dr. Keyu Jin (and guest lecturer Nobel Laureate 2010, Prof. Chris Pissarides), Macroeconomic Challenges of Global Imbalances

The first  question  – very much in the LSE tradition of drilling down into core issues – has to do with  the basic cause or causes  of our current crisis. Here one can pick from a variety of explanations –  some broader  ones as  suggested above;  other of a more specific economic character rooted in an out-of-control system  of  deregulated financial markets, global imbalances, cheap money, extensive home ownership, and  growing income inequalities; a world  moreover where  governments  before the crisis either did not seem  to understood what was happening, or  even if they did, did not have the power or the instruments at their disposal  to do much to change  the course of history.

The second question relates to the past, present and the future of the world economy. Here the biggest question of all is to what degree is this particular crisis different to those that have happened at regular intervals since World War II?  And if it is different, then why should this be so? Furthermore, why has it since proven so difficult to reform a system that has caused so much economic dislocation? Why moreover has it has proven so  difficult for  the West to get out of the crisis? Certainly, there seem to be  very few optimists around in the West just now. Indeed, one of the most striking  things about the present crisis is that whereas people can’t stop talking about it in the West, in countries like China and India they wonder what all the fuss is about – at least for the time being.

The third  question concerns governance at both national and international levels.   There are, as all three courses reveal,  many fascinating issues raised by the present economic conjuncture. But one of the most critical  has to do with the way in which world manages – or tries to manage – an increasingly integrated globalized economy where states still matter a lot,  but where  decisions taken  by  ‘markets’  seem to matter a whole lot more. This in turn raises  many more  questions,  not the least important of which is whether or not governments have very much power at all; and in turn whether they are willing  to give up what power they have  to construct some  new financial architecture which is far more in tune with the modern age?

The fourth question relates  to that very simple but all-important issue: who wins and who loses in the new world economic order? The  “rest”  we are told look set to be winners;  and amongst the “rest”,  Asia and China in particular  seem to be especially well placed to take advantage of the new world in the making. Yet there is still a  very long way to go before we can talk of a permanent power shift.  Even rising China it is suggested in these courses has to take care. After all, its prosperity upon which many countries in the international economy now depend,   also depends on the international economy remaining buoyant and economically dynamic too.

Finally, all three courses question the idea that there are  simple explanations of ‘why we are  where we are’  today.  They are also united in insisting that there is no easy way forward. Nor to continue are they  at all   certain that the world will become either a more stable or  a more equal place in the future.  All they can   promise  is  to get those who are trying to make sense of a  rapidly shifting global economy to at least base their thinking and  their decisions – and those of their companies – on rigorous analysis; one which takes as its point of departure the inescapable  fact that while  businesses today are  confronted with very real opportunities, these are  presenting themselves in a  world where the  economic challenges are as real and as serious as anything we have seen since the 1930s.

Professor Michael Cox teaches in the  Department of International Relations at the LSE. He is also  Co-Director of LSE IDEAS and Academic Director of Executive Summer School. His main work more recently has focused on the changes in US foreign policy in an age of globalization and the impact of the financial and economic crisis on the balance of power. His most recent books include Soft Power and US Foreign Policy and  The Global 1989: Continuity and Change in World  Politics, both published in 2010. His next book will be a second edition of  his  co-edited and highly successful Oxford University Press textbook, US Foreign Policy.  This will appear in  2012.



  1. “BRICs have robbed the US of its 21st-century unipolar moment, rewritten the rules of East-West global engagement, and reshaped the world’s patterns of trade, the world’s distribution of economic activity, and the world’s landscape of poverty”, D. Quah, LSE Comment and Opinion, January 2012
  2. “We live in quite extraordinary times where few in the West  now  appear  to  have much confidence any longer in the notion of the West”, M. E. Cox, LSE Comment and Opinion, January 2012

Who moved my BlackBerry… and those hundreds of millions of people?

China and India are, for now, the only billion-people economies. In one popular telling, China shifted hundreds of millions of workers from farms to urban areas. In that story that switch rate, paired with reasonable assumptions on relative productivities in relatively backwards agriculture and forward-looking manufacturing just about matches China’s overall growth rate, after factoring in other measureable progress.

A related not uncommon view further has it that India codes workman-like software, designs lower-end pharmaceuticals, answers queries about insurance claims over the telephone, and scans X-rays that Western doctors are too busy to do. These jobs might pay far less than done in the West but, in their part of the global marketplace, they almost surely pay better than stitching together textiles in Shanghai () or assembling refrigerators in Shandong Peninsula (山东半岛).

So, which economy has had its growth driven more by changes in labour input? Where have more people moved out of poverty?

The Figures (using data kindly provided me by Dale Jorgensen and Khuong-minh Vu that they had used in their paper “Information Technology and the World Economy”, 2006) show decompositions of Chinese and Indian growth into contributions due to physical capital, labour, and productivity (TFP). Earlier on, between 1989 and 1995, China certainly drew more on labour than did India to power economic growth and, true to stereotype, drew more on labour hours (“mere sweat and effort”) than on labour quality, i.e., on skills and human capital. But even then the difference was small.

By 2000-2005 the most recent period for which we have data, China had come to rely more on physical capital, i.e., on machines. Its reliance on labour had fallen to 13%, almost exactly half that of India’s. That shift occurred, moreover, with little loss in productivity’s contribution. Through both periods and in both countries, productivity never contributed less than 40% of growth overall.

By 2000-2005, in fact, China’s profile of growth contribution from capital, labour, and productivity almost exactly matched that of the US. The difference, of course, is that China has been growing at 3 times the rate of the US.

The next Figure (per capita income on the horizontal axis; hundreds of millions in $1/day-poverty) shows how China’s much, much more impressive aggregate growth has lifted half a billion people out of extreme poverty in the last quarter-century; India, on the other hand, has only recently and, by comparison, imperceptibly started along the same path. But with a long way to go still. The data are for 1984-2004; I had used them in a previous blog posting.

My own small contribution on global inequality the last couple months was extremely practical. I did what I could in charitable fundraising. The video shows my friend Maria Gratsova holding the board for an airbreak. I performed a jump spinning hook kick. This particular event was the LSE Development Society auction on 05 February 2008, and I was up on the auction block. Fortunately, someone did buy me – for much more than I’m worth. But the money went to a good cause and the deal was that we had a paid-for dinner together afterwards.

(Yes, yes, I know, boards don’t hit back but an airbreak means the board swings loose, and so is harder to break. And of course that they don’t hit back doesn’t mean they break everytime. In this next video [from September 2007] I attempted two boards on one jump and only broke one.)

Thanks to the kindness of friends, Maria and I held a repeat performance at LSE’s Malaysia-Singapore Students Night, 23 February 2008, in the Old Theatre. Money changed hands there too, and for just as worthy a cause. (This still is from LiEe Ng’s camera; thanks LiEe!)

The Confidence of Nations

In 1993 the New York Times ranked as one of the world’s top 10 restaurants the Far East Asian eatery Din Tai Fung (鼎泰丰): This restaurant specializes in xialongbao (small steamed dumplings).

Overnight, culture snobs everywhere no longer had to hide their inner ethnic hawker stall-foodie.

When I was growing up on a small Far East Asian island—when I say small, I mean 46 miles around—the height of sophistication was to eschew hawker foods like small steamed dumplings. Instead, if you were one of the cool kids, you boasted of having been at least once to an air-conditioned café, to sit there and have lunch comprising a ham sandwich and a salad, with tomatoes in it (although this last cost extra).

These days, of course, you can’t stay in any top international hotel in most countries in the Far East without waking up to a breakfast (or lunch or dinner) of koay teow thng, laksa, nasi lemak, sar hor fun, rojak, char koay teow, murtabak, oh chien, …, and, last but not least, small steamed dumplings. Everyone is now Deckard gesturing for two portions, only sitting in fancy surroundings.

What’s going on here? When did emerging economies acquire the self-confidence that allowed their native foods—for centuries sold only in back alleys and street-side hawker stalls, and served on banana leaf and old newspaper—to assume the mantle of cosmopolitan sophistication? Is it just higher incomes per capita? Is it the lifting of hundreds of millions of their populations out of absolute poverty? Or did the self-confidence come first and it is that that drove the people living in these economies to engage with the rest of humanity through trade and exchange, to clear out corrupt and ineffectual governments, to go to schools and be educated, to organize markets and to engineer efficient production?

I like it that my students at the LSE (including the 70% non-UK ones of LSE’s 8300, from over 150 countries worldwide) have that kind of self-confidence. This year (together with the very personable and prolific Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law at the LSE) I got to give a welcome lecture to their parents the week before classes began. I talked to them about “Globalization and The Student,” [PDF transcript, podcast coming soon]; I enjoyed tremendously the entire event, the questions the parents asked, and the conversations I got to have with them afterwards at the drinks reception. From everything I’ve seen at the LSE in my time here, their kids—our charges for the next few years—will be as interesting and interested, as delightful and entertaining as those kind people I got to meet Thursday evening.

“3 little syllables”: LSE graduation, July 2007

Given how knowledge is supposed to be just world knowledge—not Korean, Japanese, British, or American knowledge—it is impressive how much gets written comparing to those in the West the sheer numbers employed in Chinese science and technology, or the levels of expertise in Indian engineering. How long will it be, it is implied, before Chinese knowledge or Indian knowledge overtake Western knowledge?

Thomas Friedman describes in The World is Flat how Craig Barret — the current Chairman and former CEO of Intel Corporation — shocks Americans by admitting Intel could well thrive as a company even if it never hired another American, although this of course is neither Intel’s intent or desire. “We still do hire lots of Americans. But today we can hire the best talent around the world and be very successful,” casting his eye over how a lot of Intel investment now takes place in Russia, China, India, Malaysia, and Israel.

Why hold back? Why not hire only the best?

The other story making the rounds is how in many Western firms now, annual prize ceremonies for top performance come with cheat-sheets to help the CEO pronounce the names of 9 out of 10 of the firm’s most outstanding employees. Now and then, of course, “John Smith” from Peoria Illinois surprises.

So it was with some trepidation in early July that, as Head of the LSE Economics Department, I looked over the list of 300 or so graduating students whose names I would have to announce, before an audience of 1,000 in the Peacock Theatre at LSE’s graduation ceremony. As I had previously blogged last December and October, that audience would include friends and family who had travelled vast distances to attend.

LSE has long been and continues to be far more international than any other university I know. Of its student population of 8,000, half come from more than 120 countries outside the European Union. Last year, for the first time ever, China and Hong Kong fielded over 950, the highest number of foreign students at the LSE. Malaysia and Singapore, even when added together manage only a tiny population at home. Yet, somehow they routinely send the LSE almost as many students as does the Chinese mainland now, and one-third more students than does all of Germany.

At the ceremony, I got up to the podium and, following protocol, tipped my hat to Howard Davies, the Director of the LSE, standing across the stage. He nodded, and looked pointedly back at me, for my Department’s students were the bulk of those waiting to be called up on stage to shake his hand. I started down the list, and got smoothly around the first bend with “Igor Cesarec”, “Christina Yuen Kiu Chan”, “Wang Sheair Chua”, “Yahan Li”, “Sulwyn Lim”, “Saravanan Nagappan”, “Hieu Nguyen”, “Sunehra Rahman”, and “Muhammad Kashif Riaz”.

I figured I was doing well. I only had 240 names that morning; some graduates had decided to go home or had had to start work, and couldn’t attend.

I could see the finish line. I headed towards it with “Adrian Zhi Da Wong”, “Sukjai Wongwaisiriwat”, and “Zhi Jia Yap”. I was on the final straightaway now with “Jiaqian Chen”, “Ilja Boelaars”, “Kun Lung Wu”, “Vasileios Gkionakis”, and “Nuarpear Warn Lekfuangfu”.

Then I messed up.

“Linda Peng”. Three syllables. From Malaysia.

These people I have named and others in the Peacock Theatre that morning are friends of mine. Of those who graduated BSc from the Economics Department, three years back I had given them and their classmates, all 850 of them, the very first lecture they ever attended at the LSE. Not by coincidence, that had also occurred in the Peacock Theatre; it was the first lecture on Introductory Economics. These people are members of an amazing and accomplished class. I wasn’t pleased to see them leave that July morning. But I was proud I got to announce their names as they left.

World knowledge it is then.

Oh no! Which camera?!

At the Malaysia Gala dinner Tuesday evening (05 June 2007, here in London) Jimmy Choo won yet another richly-deserved award for fashion design.

I was lucky enough to have our photograph taken together. But, err, whose camera did that go into?! Not mine. There were an awful lot of flashing lights and digital cameras and cellphones and reporters out. Hmmm. A picture lost forever, unless it magically shows up in one of those photo albums visitors get to browse at Jimmy Choo Couture.

(Or as the lovely Francesca told me about shoes, “Men. You just don’t get it, do you?”)

New Year’s Day 2007 I’d run into Jimmy and his wonderful family at Oriental City. We worried over the state of parts of the national press and their understanding of intellectual property rights. Sherwin Rosen’s Economics of Superstars figured too, for both what it got right and what it got wrong (no deep secret: Rosen thought what he called shoemakers would never be superstars. So just keep thinking “Jimmy Choo” as you work through the equations in the paper, and remember Sex and the City didn’t start broadcasting until 1998. Or just read again what Francesca said).

When this OC closes, all that wonderful serendipity will go. If you’re reading this not too late in the millennium, sign the petition.

On an earlier occasion (January 2007, at LSE) I fortunately managed to locate the camera where this photograph went. (Thanks Dennis!) We discussed the role of human capital in the economic development of small, open fast-growing economies.

Learn economics. Get the terminology right. Mingle with interesting people. A friend of mine still believes that her saying “I’m an economist” sounds much, much cooler than saying “Bond. The name is Bond.”

Did Hollaback Girl scan more easily than Bootylicious?

One of the really enjoyable things about being Head of Department is attending graduation ceremony and reading out, to the assembly, the names of all the economics students who are graduating. The freshly-minted graduates come up on stage, one at a time, and shake hands with the Director. At the LSE we have two of these ceremonies each year. And each time around I marvel at how well our students scrub clean. (You know who you are.)

London being what it is, it’s always seemed to me that the families and friends of our students save up the annual GDP of a small under-developed nation so they can attend these ceremonies. Of course, the students have already spent the GDP of several such nations just getting to that point. The least we can do is put on a show.

This time around I also go to read out my oration for an Honorary Doctorate for Robert Mundell. That was roaring good fun. As was he.

It’s just a metaphor!

I missed a September posting on this blog. On the other hand, being Head of Department lets me indulge in talking to large groups in other ways. For instance, I got to address the entering class of BSc Econ students at the LSE. 28 September 2006. So maybe that talk will have to do instead.

Speaking to these cosmopolitan students got me thinking about textbooks that, optimistically, label themselves International Edition, yet still use examples like consuming lobster at a New England clambake. These students of ours have munched fried silkworm while walking down Wangfujing in Beijing. They’ve come in from homes on windswept, treeless plains outside Ulanbataar; or they regularly shop Singapore’s Orchard Road and Shanghai’s Nanjing Road. They’ve bitten into black pudding, for breakfast both in an English cafe and with noodles in soup in a Far East Asian open-air foodcourt. Why does anyone think a New England clambake would hold any resonance for them? But then again why would it hold any resonance even for someone biting into corndog at a Minnesota state fair?

Maybe that was OK when the whole world watched CNN and MTV together. But no one does anymore. They’re too busy looking at 180-second segments of amateur content on YouTube or MySpace, generated by relatively random people from over 130 countries around the world.

Oh, and yes, to the parents of these LSE kids: Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll is just a metaphor. Like when someone has 243 friends on LSE’s Facebook? They are really working hard at school, and not hanging out with 243 people the entire time. Chill.

Not teaching

This fall is the first in the last 9 that I will not be teaching Introductory Economics to first-year undergraduates at the London School of Economics.

Because of my other duties at the School I will not, early this October, be standing up in a large, darkened theatre in London’s West End in front of 850 undergraduates sitting in their first university lecture. I will not be worrying if their first lecture will set the appropriate tone for the rest of their university career. I will not be worrying if economics will come alive for them, over their first year, in a way that fires their imagination for the rest of their lives. I will not be worrying if the ideas these students encounter lead them later in life to assess affairs of the world thoughtfully and reasonably.

Well, I will worry – it’s just that I no longer face the hazard of doing anything about it, for good or bad.

Less than 30 percent of the students sitting in that large lecture theatre for Introductory Economics will go on to study economics as a specialization at LSE. An even smaller fraction will contemplate doing economics professionally. For the overwhelming majority, those Introductory Economics lectures provide the one opportunity we (academic economists and social scientists) have to tell them why we think the way we do.

Will the economics we teach seem obtuse, technical, obscure, specialized, counter-intuitive, uncool, and …, well, just plain the opposite of fun? Will this economics appear in a hurry to get on to yet something else (a more advanced course?), and not spend enough time revealing itself, right then and there, as a pretty remarkable way of understanding and improving the world around us?

LSE has the most cosmopolitan and international a student body of any top university in the world. About 1000 undergraduates matriculate at the LSE each year; of 8000 students here overall, 49 percent come from more than 120 countries outside the European Union. The native languages and states of origin among the students milling about the tiny expanse of Houghton Street dot every single part of the globe.

No other location on Earth matches per square meter the intellectual and experiential diversity worn so lightly by the LSE.


CM were in Paris this month with their mom for a French language course; then they all visited the Arc de Triomphe.

Two things I am currently working on frenziedly (beyond the long-term projects listed elsewhere on this page): First, a paper on the Digital Divide for the Copenhagen Consensus—what should the global community do if we had an additional $50 billion to spend over the next four years? Second, in taekwon-do a 540-degree jump spinning hook kick (here’s what it’s supposed to look like:

I’m just trying to get close for now.) If I don’t get both these done soon after this item gets posted, I will become even more embarrassed and have to remove all of it from this blog.

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