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, held on 18th April1 during the 2006 Annual Conference at Nottingham.

The RES Annual Conference returns this year to Nottingham, where we have had very successful meetings in 1999 and last year. The local organisation will doubtless be extremely efficient this year as well, and the facilities of the East Midlands Conference Centre provide an excellent environment. The Conference offers members of the Society the opportunity to discuss their work and the issues facing economics in the UK and elsewhere. The Royal Economic Society itself, however, has a wide range of activities. My report will discuss our journals, the work of our various committees, and how RES expenditures support our members and the progress of our discipline.

This year there are two new RES projects which should interest our members, as well as the first full report of the new team of editors of the Economic Journal.

John Sutton has continued to preside over the Council and its Executive Committee, with a clear vision of what he wants the Society to do. With the Treasurer, Penelope Rowlatt, he led a study that brought us to change our investment policies. He also led the discussions in Council and CHUDE of our new ‘job market’ initiative. This will be John’s final year as President, marked by the Presidential Lecture which he will deliver at this conference. I am pleased to announce that his successor will be John Vickers, who has returned to academic life after five years at the head of the Office of Fair Trading.

The Council, who are also the Trustees of the RES (as an educational charity), meets annually and occasionally consults by email. It makes the final decisions on major policy proposals. New members are elected each year, and we welcome at this AGM six recently-elected members of the Council: Rachel Griffith, Jim O’Neill, Avinash Persaud, Patricia Rice, Katharine Rockett, and Jonathan Temple.

In 2006 the RES launched a new event: our ‘Job Market’, at which final year PhDs present their work and meet prospective employers. This took place at the London School of Economics on 29-30 January. It was organised by Leonardo Felli. 100 aspiring academics (chosen from 170 who applied) and 25 departments of economics interacted, and we shall soon survey the job market entrants to ascertain what role this meeting played in their ultimate placement. We had a mix of UK-based and other European participants — about one-third of the job seekers and one-third of the departments represented came from elsewhere in Europe.

A second new initiative is the project seeking to locate, catalogue and find appropriate homes for the archives of contemporary (1950-2000) economists working in Britain. This effort to ‘preserve the economic memory’ is described in detail by Donald Winch in the January 2006 RES Newsletter. As results accumulate, we shall post them on the RES website.

The new team of editors of the Economic Journal reported to Council in November on the progress they had made since taking up their duties in July 2004. The report appears in the January Newsletter, so I give only a few highlights here. The new editors are Andrew Scott, who serves as coordinating Managing Editor, and is joined by Leonardo Felli, Steve Pischke, Jaume Ventura and Steve Machin. One of their first achievements was to assemble a truly outstanding group of 19 Associate Editors from all over Europe and the United States. The new software providing ‘straight-through’ electronic processing of manuscripts, together with the efforts of all the editors and the new administrator, Heather Daly, have reduced the average time from submission to an editorial decision from 25 to 14 weeks since 2003. This is an outstanding performance, and the editors hope to improve upon it still further. It should be an incentive to top-level potential authors. They will also be impressed by the performance of the EJ in the impact factor league tables: with an impact factor rising from 1.134 in 2002 to 1.723 in 2004, the EJ ranked 15th among economics journals, one notch ahead of the American Economic Review. We seem already to be seeing the effects: submissions rose by a full 40 per cent from 2003 to 2005.

The Econometrics Journal, our fully electronic product, continues to thrive under the managing editorship of Karim Abadir. During the coming year, he will hand over to Richard Smith.

Our quarterly Newsletter is the primary source for information about the RES and its activities - and much more. Peter Howells, the Editor, has just expanded it from 24 to 28 pages. But he would like to see more ‘news’ items to add to the features that he commissions. There must be newsworthy material coming out of UK university departments of economics that would interest a broader segment of the profession — we hope to hear from you.

The media now give substantial coverage to EJ papers and to the Annual Conference. They are guided past the equations by our media consultant, Romesh Vaitilingam, who does a superb job in bringing relevant material to the attention of journalists. There are several pieces in the newspapers since last Thursday about papers to be presented here in Nottingham. The Society’s media efforts continue to be a model for other disciplines, and we are determined to build on this to enhance the public profile of economics and demonstrate its relevance.

Annual Conference
This is the first Annual Conference overseen by our new Conference Secretary, Robin Naylor, who has succeeded the long-serving and much appreciated Jonathan Haskel. Gavin Cameron, 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 Colin Camerer (Hahn), David Card (Sargan), and Narayana Kocherlakota (Economic Journal). The EJ Conference issue has been brought under the control of the main EJ editorial team, with Steve Machin taking a guiding role, helped during the transition by Carlo Perroni, who co-edited the issue coming out of last year’s conference. The local organiser at Nottingham is again Steve Humphrey, to whom many thanks. We continue our now traditional series of reports on the conference written by distinguished economic journalists — last year’s report, by Heather Stewart of the Observer, appeared in the July Newsletter, and this year Chris Giles of the Financial Times will be covering the highlights of the proceedings.

RES Committees
The Committee on Women in the Economics Profession is now chaired by Jane Humphries. CWEP recently conducted another major survey of UK economics departments to obtain the essential statistical material to underpin its activities. Preliminary results show significant, albeit slow improvement of the status of female academics in the UK. 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. Denise Osborn is in her final year as chair of the Committee of Heads of UK Departments of Economics (CHUDE), which met this morning. Its agenda included an extensive discussion of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The new chair of CHUDE will be Neil Rickman, and Tim Worrall will succeed Alan Carruth as the Secretary. I can testify to the outstanding contribution that the outgoing chair and secretary have made to CHUDE’s work, which is extremely important for UK academic economics.

The fifth in the series of Annual RES Lectures launched by the committee was given by Paul Seabright in December. He spoke in both London and Edinburgh, on ‘The biology and economics of the sex war’. The lectures in this series — from globalisation through health economics — show that the best of economic analysis can speak powerfully to the most complex of policy problems. Paul Collier will deliver the sixth lecture in the series in December of this year.

Support for members
Despite our decision to keep the membership subscription frozen for the seventh 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 is again offering six Junior Fellowships this year (applications are due by 12 May). The annual Easter Schools 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, for example, John Hardman Moore and John Vickers on ‘Contracts and Competition’, as well as Manuel Arellano and Steve Bond on ‘Dynamic Panel Data Estimation’. We are grateful to ESRC for its support of these training workshops, which we very much hope will continue. These are among the most successful training activities known to us, with an exceptional track record. We continue to offer small grants for support of research as well as conference grants. Anton Muscatelli now administers these funds, with great efficiency and fairness.

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.

Editor’s note:

1. References to relative dates should be read with this in mind.

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