Richard Portes and Economics in the UK

As readers will know, there have ben a number of changes involving officers of the Society this summer. Richard Portes has stepped down after a long and impressive stint as Secretary-General. In this article, the current President, John Vickers, and five former Presidents pay tribute to Richard’s achievements.

Richard Portes stood down as Secretary-General of the Society in June after sixteen years at the helm. We six, who are fortunate enough to have worked with Richard as RES Presidents, wish on behalf of all members of the Society to honour what Richard has achieved, and continues to achieve, for Economics in the UK and beyond.

In 1992, when he succeeded Aubrey Silberston as Secretary-General, Richard had already been a member of the RES Council and Executive Committee for five years. He was then at Birkbeck, but in 1995 moved to LBS. That was when Eleanor Burke became RES Administration Officer, and hence linch-pin to the Society’s expanding endeavours. We are all enormously grateful for what Eleanor has done for the Society, and wish her well for her new role as Economics Administrator at LBS.

At the Warwick conference in March, Richard took stock of developments in the RES’s work, and the state of the profession more generally, in his report to the AGM, which was published in the April Newsletter. A selection of just some of the new initiatives by the Society under Richard includes: the Easter School, the Econometrics Journal, the Media Initiative, the annual public lectures, the Women's Committee, the PhD presentation ‘job market’ event, and the Young Economist of the Year essay competition for schools.

Such initiatives, together with governance reforms and further strengthening of our core activities, notably the Economic Journal and the annual conference, have broadened (e.g. to the wider public) and deepened (e.g. to schools) what the Society does for UK Economics. Moreover, they have been carried out with financial prudence: thanks also to Treasurers John Flemming and Penelope Rowlatt, RES finances remain in strong shape despite recent market turbulence. There is therefore good scope to build on Richard’s legacy.

Of course the RES is but one of the ways that Richard contributes powerfully to Economics in the UK and internationally. Besides his own research and teaching, there is the truly remarkable achievement of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, which has its 25th anniversary this year. Economic policy debate in Europe would have been greatly impoverished without the vigour and rigour of the CEPR, with its research network, discussion papers, policy seminars, Economic Policy (founded in 1985), and now the portal for online policy debate. Just as Richard’s own work has ranged from central planning to international capital flows, European policy issues over the quarter century of CEPR have seen the transition from Communism, the enlargement and further integration of the EU economy, the rise of the euro, and the financial crises of the past year. Our understanding of all these issues would be weaker if it were not for the CEPR and its architect and President, Richard.

Two central themes of Richard's valedictory report to the Society were the importance of outreach and the benefits of competition — yes, even the RAE — to UK Economics. Richard is an out and out internationalist, and it is in good part thanks to his efforts, and the tone he has set, that the UK economics profession has been open in every sense, and, on the whole, has flourished as a result. The Helpman Review of UK Economics, to be published later in the year, will take stock from an international perspective of just where we now stand. We are undoubtedly stronger because of Richard's influence and the values he embodies.

We therefore thank Richard heartily for all he has done for the Society, salute his achievements, and wish him well for all that he continues to do for Economics and Economists.

            -  Tony Atkinson    Partha Dasgupta    David Hendry    Steve Nickell    John Sutton    John Vickers

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