Secretary-General's Annual Report

The Secretary-General, Professor Richard Portes, presented the following report on the Society's activities to its Annual General Meeting, on 5th April during the 2004 Annual Conference at Swansea, with apologies for his absence.1

The RES Annual Conference returns this year to the University of Wales Swansea, where we had a very successful meeting in 1996. The local organisation and facilities will doubtless be excellent this year as well. The Conference is an annual occasion for members of the Society to discuss their work and the issues facing economics in the UK and outside. But the Royal Economic Society has a wide range of activities, and I shall report on our journals, the initiatives coming from the Society's various committees, and RES expenditures supporting our members and the progress of economics in the UK and elsewhere.

New names, new faces
This is a year of change in many positions of leadership in the Society’s activities: a new President; new editors of the Economic Journal and the Econometrics Journal; new chairs of CHUDE, the Committee on Women in the Profession, and the Committee on the Public Profile of Economics.

This meeting marks the end of the three-year term of the Society’s President, Stephen Nickell. Members may not be aware of how much work the job involves. Steve has been an extremely active and dedicated President, and he has devoted substantial time to the affairs of the Society and the profession as a whole. I thank him warmly on behalf of all members, but also personally: it has been a great pleasure to work with him. I am sure he will maintain his commitment to the RES and his participation in our affairs. At this Annual General Meeting, John Sutton takes office as President. He will chair his first Council meeting at the end of this month. We also welcome at this AGM six newly-elected members of the Council: David Begg, Julia Darby, Raquel Fernandez, Kevin Roberts, Margaret Slade and Sushil Wadhwani.

I reported last year on the relaunch of the Society’s website and the many innovations it offered. I am pleased to say that the considerable time, effort and expense put into this have paid off handsomely, and we have had a great deal of positive feedback. I urge those who have not fully exploited the facilities now available to go to the website and see for yourselves. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome.

Publications
A major item of news to report this year is the changeover in the leadership of the Economic Journal. Mike Wickens and his colleagues have completed two terms, during which they have restructured the journal and enhanced its status as a leading general journal. The Managing Editors’ report to Council, published in the January 2004 issue of the Society’s Newsletter, set out with great clarity the policies and achievements of the EJ. In the same issue, Mike Wickens (in a reply to Pranab Bardhan), reflects on the differences between a general journal and field journals and gives a thoughtful perspective on the tasks and responsibilities of editors. These articles are excellent background from which to view the new editorial team's quest to raise further the standing of the Economic Journal.

Succeeding Mike as coordinating Managing Editor is Andrew Scott (London Business School), and he will be joined by Marianne Bertrand (Chicago GBS), Leonardo Felli (London School of Economics), and Jaume Ventura (Universitat Pompeu Fabra). Steve Machin (University College London) will be continuing as Features Editor. The institutional affiliations make it evident that this is an international team, and the new group of Associate Editors is equally diverse. Both the Managing and the Associate Editors are also of exceptional quality, very hard to achieve in an environment of intense competition for top researchers to serve in editorial positions. I am very excited by the prospects.

The Econometrics Journal, our fully electronic product, has more than fulfilled our high expectations. Under the outstanding editorship of Neil Shephard, it has attracted first-class authors and provided them with the speedy, accurate publication that the online mode permits. Neil has now passed the mantle to Karim Abadir, in whom we can have great confidence.

The Newsletter is a lively read — informative and often thought-provoking. Peter Howells, the Editor, has commissioned a range of feature articles that make it a valuable resource for all the Society’s members, in the UK and abroad, academic and non-academic. Improvements in production technology have enabled us to keep the cost of this activity constant over the past four years, while its content has expanded.

The media have given substantial coverage to EJ papers and to the Annual Conference. Romesh Vaitilingam does a superb job in bringing relevant material to the attention of journalists. Many of us will have been delighted that his achievements in this and other areas were recognised by the award of MBE in the June 2003 Honours List. The Society’s media initiative has won substantial praise, and we are determined to build on this to enhance the public profile of economics and demonstrate its relevance. Equally important is its rigour — we want students, policy-makers, and the informed public to realise that understanding the economic issues that concern them requires a lot of hard analytical work and careful, technically sophisticated study of the data. That said, we must then try to make our understanding accessible to a non-technical audience.

ELSSS
The RES has assisted in the launching of the Electronic Society for Social Sciences (www.elsss.org), which is described at length in the January 2003 issue of the Newsletter. ELSSS is now negotiating with a top publisher that would act as distributor of its first journal, the Review of Economic Theory, and we can expect news soon. The ELSSS manuscript management software may be adopted by the EJ.

Annual ConferenceThe Annual Conference is overseen by our Conference Secretary, Jonathan Haskel, and his committee. We all benefit greatly from the work that they do for us. Francesca Cornelli, the Programme Chair for this Conference, has assembled an excellent programme of both contributed papers and invited sessions. The invited lectures are being given by Willem Buiter (Hahn), David Hendry (Sargan), Douglas Bernheim (Economic Journal), and Caroline Hoxby (Review of Economic Studies). The EJ Conference issue will be edited by Rachel Griffith and Jonathan Temple. The local organiser at Swansea is Nigel O’Leary, to whom many thanks.

RES Committees
The Committee on Women in the Economics Profession has for several years been chaired by Heather Joshi. She has done an excellent job, especially in developing the factual (statistical) basis for the Committee’s work. We are fortunate that Jane Humphries has agreed to succeed her. The Committee will have a special session during this Conference, and its activities and output are set out in detail on the RES website. The Society continues its interchanges with funders and users of economic research and employers of economists through the Research Liaison (with ESRC) and Public Sector Economists Liaison Committees. Economists in British universities owe much to John Beath, who has been an extremely hard-working and effective Chair of the Committee of Heads of Departments of Economics (CHUDE). I had announced the end of his term two years ago, but he responded to our request to stay on, and so stepped down only at the end of 2003. Denise Osborn has taken on this post, which is highly important for academic economics in the UK, as John's dedicated service demonstrated. Alan Carruth is the new Secretary of CHUDE.

The committee on the public profile of economics is now chaired by Andrew Dilnot. The third in the series of Annual RES Lectures launched by the committee was given by John Vickers in London and Edinburgh. An article summing up his discussion of ‘Competition Economics’ appeared in the January 2004 issue of the Newsletter. The lectures are aimed at non-specialists, especially school students, one of whom wrote an enthusiastic endorsement of this initiative that also appeared in the January Newsletter. The fourth lecture in the series will be given in London and Edinburgh by Carol Propper in December of this year. The committee has also led RES participation in Open Days organised by HM Treasury and also involving the Bank of England. These have brought the best final-year undergraduates from over 40 universities to London, seeking to convince them of the merits of economics as a career. The Committee is currently reviewing work it commissioned on developing new teaching materials for economics in secondary schools.

Support for members
Despite the fall in the value of our assets and our decision to keep the membership subscription frozen for the fifth consecutive year, the RES is determined to continue its support for activities that we believe are of considerable benefit to members and the profession at large. The Society has again offered six Junior Fellowships this year. The annual Easter Schools (now held well after Easter) in economics and econometrics, each lasting for a week, attract considerable excess demand from advanced PhD students and new faculty. That is because of the exceptionally high standing of those who come to lecture — this year, James Hines and Tim Besley on ‘Public Economics and Political Economy’ and a group of six distinguished practitioners of financial econometrics. We are grateful to ESRC for its support of these training workshops. We shall continue to offer small grants for support of research as well as conference grants, administered by Chris Milner.

RES administration
The smooth functioning of the Society has for many years depended heavily on the efforts of Kathy Crocker, our Membership Secretary, and Eleanor Burke, the Administration Officer who works with the Secretary-General. We are always happy to respond to any queries from members.

Note:
1. The report was read in the absence of the Secretary-General by Professor John Beath.

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