Friday, 8 May 2009

Battle for the Economy

I'm speaking on Saturday 16th May at the Battle for the Economy, a conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit.

It's "a public discussion about the economic crisis with leading economists, political commentators, business people and policy makers. With the emphasis on public debate rather than behind-closed-doors diplomacy, the event will start a conversation to move us beyond political soundbites and help us get to grips with the political and economic battles ahead".

I have a couple of free tickets to give away, so read on to find out more...

My session is on behavioural economics, and among other things we'll be debating whether it's a new and powerful guide to economic behaviour or just a cop-out; whether policymaking that takes advantage of (or combats) cognitive biases is Orwellian or enlightened; and whether behavioural research can actually be used for anything more useful than making a glass of wine taste better. If you can't spend the whole day there, my session is from 3.15 to 4.15 so you are welcome to come just for that.

Other speakers include Paul Mason of Newsnight, Michael Skapinker of the FT, Frank Furedi from University of Kent, Rob Killick from cScape, Richard Portes of the LSE and CEPR, and many more.

In the leadup I've been having an interesting debate with Stuart Derbyshire, senior lecturer in psychology at Birmingham University, which will be published online early next week - I'll link to it when it's up. A sneak preview of some brief excerpts from our head-to-head:

Leigh: I believe behavioural economics is on the cusp of achieving something new and remarkable in the social sciences: a testable model of human behaviour with real predictive power

Stuart: ...behavioural economics is not just banal it is also used to support and promote a rather limited vision of human beings...[it] provides some interesting observations about consumer behaviour but those observations offer little in terms of understanding or solving economic problems

Leigh: Economic welfare is not a function of how much stuff is produced. It’s actually about the benefit people get from it.

Stuart: It might be vaguely interesting that consumers will pay more for, and enjoy more, a glass of wine served in a posh glass and classy surroundings. But it is surely an overstatement to suggest that such things are now the prime way to improve our lives. Where is your imagination?! Whatever happened to the plans for abundant cheap fuel, holiday trips to outer space, flying cars...

Leigh: ...material fulfilment is only one part (a substantial part, I accept) of what provides us with satisfaction in life. The fulfilment I get from working to earn the material goods, or the subjective ways in which I enjoy that space holiday, are a necessary part of what makes me happy...consumers [had] little understanding of the reasons they might be making those choices. If more individuals had realised this when taking out credit – or investing in other people’s debt – the economic crisis would not have been as serious as it is.
And now if you'd like to win those tickets, just answer this question:

What's the most irrational buying decision you've ever made?

Most interesting answer (by email to or in the comments if you don't mind others seeing it) wins two tickets to the conference and a bottle of champagne.

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