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Blog: Why there’s never been a better time to learn more about economics and public policy

Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St Mary's University, Twickenham is collaborating his colleague Dr André Azevedo Alves to deliver a Summer School with the University of Warwick.

The Public Policy and Economics course will form part of the Warwick Summer School (WSS) programme on St Mary’s Strawberry Hill campus in south west London, from 16th July to 4th August 2017.

Philip and André share their thoughts on this unique course in their blog below.


Why spend part of the summer taking a course in Economics and Public Policy? Most economists make judgements about public policy and many work in the field: for central banks, the civil service, NGO’s, think tanks, regulatory agencies or as consultants. Indeed, all the great economists put public policy at the centre of their work or, at least, their work had important public policy implications – Smith, Marshall, Pigou, Keynes, Friedman, Samuelson, Hayek and Stiglitz just to name a few.

 Although many economists go into other areas of work (such as business analysis or finance) the public policy arena is the natural habitat for many of us. Elections are won and lost on the economy – rarely on other matters. 

The Brexit debate would have surely been better informed had the economic issues been better understood – and the same applies to debates about migration, unemployment (especially in continental Europe), productivity (especially in Britain and the US), the euro and free trade, all of which are influencing elections. Better-informed debate leads to better public policy.

Many degree courses in economics touch on public policy issues at a relatively abstract level – discussion of specific applications is often sidelined. Courses in law and politics often omit the underlying economic principles that are important in making judgements about, for example, whether to increase the extent of employment protection legislation.

The Warwick Economic Summer School course, taught by St. Mary’s faculty together with a range of eminent guest speakers, will give key insights into the economics of public policy. It will be taught in an engaging way with open discussion of a range of public policy issues. Students will come to understand and then debate the key principles. It is also open to students of all disciplines  - you do not have to be doing a degree in economics to take this course.

The course will not simply rely on the basic economic tools usually included in economics degrees, it will also introduce disciplines such as public choice economics and institutional economics which seek to explain why in many real world instances we are faced with sub-optimal institutions and government policies. These disciplines examine how people behave in practice, in the voting booth, as government employees and as politicians and, in doing so, sometimes create a policy background that is not conducive to economic prosperity. They are therefore particularly useful to help analyse and make sense of actual public policy realities and possible alternatives. 

Those attending the course will hear from former cabinet ministers; Chief Economist at the Bank of England, Andy Hadane; Nobel Prize winner, George Akerlof; people who work or have worked for leading public policy think tanks (for example, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research); and those who have worked with the world’s poorest people who suffer from disastrous public policy decisions and dysfunctional institutions. You will hear about the work of Nobel Prize winners such as North, Ostrom and Buchannan whose ideas have shaped public policy across the world. 

In the summer school, we will examine topics such as: should the government tax sugar? Is the justice system putting too many people in prisons? How can we best fight and reduce modern slavery? Why do governments not do what might be economically sensible? How do some of the main religious doctrines impact economic understanding and the course of public policy? Should the government impose minimum wages? How should healthcare be provided? What were the causes of the financial crash? Along with many other areas of policy.

There will also be opportunities to visit the Bank of England, Hampton Court (and learn about the influence the monarchy had over economic life in times past) and Parliament. 

For many people in the world today, good economic policy decisions are the difference between life and death; starvation or making a decent living; prosperity or drudgery. Good policy really matters. We hope you will come and learn more about it at the Warwick-St. Mary’s Economics Summer School.

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