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 11th April during the 2007 Annual Conference at Warwick.

The RES Annual Conference returns this year to Warwick. The local organisation has been extremely efficient, and for this we are very grateful to Natalie Chen, the Local Organiser, and her colleagues. The Conference brings members of the Society together to discuss their research, economic policy issues, and problems facing the discipline in the UK and elsewhere. This is one of the main annual events for the Royal Economic Society, but we also have a wide range of other activities. My report will discuss our journals, the work of our various committees, and how RES expenditures support our members and the progress of economics.

First, however, I mark with great sadness the passing of Ronald Tress. He had a distinguished career, as Reader in Public Finance at LSE, then Dean of Social Sciences at Bristol, Master of Birkbeck, and finally Director of the Leverhulme Trust. From 1975 to 1979 he was Secretary-General of the RES. Ronnie created the Economics Department at Birkbeck in 1971-72, and that was my first contact with him. The obituary in our Newsletter (January 2007) measured him perfectly: ‘He was a shrewd and resolute leader and a sensitive judge of people…admired for his knowledge, his wisdom and his common sense, as well as for [his] cool and controlled manner.’ But that was just at the professional level — he was also a warm and supportive friend to many.

During the final year of his three-year presidency of the Society, John Sutton has presided over the Council and its Executive Committee, having led the RES in several major initiatives. He and the Treasurer, Penelope Rowlatt, have successfully changed our investment policies: as the 2006 accounts show, investment income is up significantly, and the finances of the Society are strong. The President has also played the major role in formulating and implementing the important new ‘job market’ meeting, which ran for a second year in January. At this conference, he is succeeded by John Vickers, now back at Oxford 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), meet annually and occasionally consult by email. Council makes the final decisions on major policy proposals. New members are elected each year, and we welcome at this AGM the latest contingent: Erik Berglöf, Stephanie Flanders, Costas Meghir, Hashem Pesaran, Robert Skidelsky, and Jonathan Thomas.

In 2006 the RES launched a new event: our Job Market (PhD Presentation Meeting), at which final year PhDs present their work and meet prospective employers. For the second year, this took place again in January at the London School of Economics. It was organised by Oliver Linton. 165 aspiring academics and 28 departments of economics interacted, and we expect results soon from our survey of how the event affected placement. We had a mix of UK-based and other European participants — about one-third of the job seekers and one-half of the departments represented came from elsewhere in Europe. The Job Market will be held next year at University College London.

A second initiative, new this year, is the Royal Economic Society competition to designate ‘Young Economists of the Year’. In association with tutor2u, we have launched an essay-writing competition open to students currently studying for their A-levels or the International Baccalaureate. They are asked to write on a major current problem in economics or a topic of concern in economic policy. The winner will receive £1,000, and runners up will receive £500. The closing date is 30 April. The winners will be announced in August, and the prize will be presented at the RES Public Lecture at the end of this year.

Publications
The 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 2007 Newsletter, so I give only a few highlights here. Submission numbers continue to rise, and for the year to 30 June 2006 were up almost 50 per cent from 2002. The proportion of theoretical papers was up, reflecting the editors’ efforts to encourage submissions in this area. The EJ came seventh in the ISIC citation rankings, fifth among general journals. Turnaround times continue to fall, so that the average paper is dealt with in under four months — an outstanding achievement. The Conference Volume has now been integrated into the Editorship of the main journal. And the book review policy has changed: rather than providing short reviews for a large number of books, the EJ is now focusing on a few key new books, giving space for lengthy discussions and debates.

News this year comes also from the Econometrics Journal, our fully electronic product. Karim Abadir has just completed a highly successful term as Managing Editor and is handing over to Richard Smith on 1 May. The editorial structure will be reorganised, with an Editorial Board comprised of the Managing Editor and three or four Co-Editors. Oliver Linton, Jean-Marc Robin, and Pierre Perron have agreed to serve as Co-Editors. The Board will be approaching a number of younger econometricians to serve as Associate Editors.

Our quarterly Newsletter is the primary source for information about the RES and its activities — and much more. Peter Howells, the Editor, has no difficulty now in filling the new length of 28 pages. The Newsletter is getting more ‘news’ items to add to the features that he commissions, partly thanks to the efforts of CHUDE to encourage news from departments.

Economic Journal papers and the Annual Conference now get substantial coverage in the press. Our media consultant, Romesh Vaitilingam, puts great effort into bringing relevant material to the attention of journalists. There are already several pieces in the newspapers about papers to be presented here in Warwick. The Society’s media efforts have attracted considerable notice, and we are working to use this ‘external validation’ to demonstrate the importance of economics as a discipline and its broader public relevance.

Our Publications Secretary, Donald Winch, has elaborated and updated the website devoted to Economists’ Papers (www.economistspapers.org.uk). There are about 25 new entries and some new features. Among our publications, the Society holds copyright to the Keynes papers and manages the edition of Keynes’s complete works. We shall soon be reissuing the General Theory with a new introduction from Paul Krugman.

Considerable effort went into the recent redesign and updating of the RES website, and I commend it to you for a wide range of interesting and useful material.

Annual Conference
This is the second Annual Conference overseen by our new Conference Secretary, Robin Naylor. Jeremy Smith, the Programme Chair for this Conference, has assembled an excellent programme of both contributed papers and invited sessions. Over 250 papers will be presented, and the number of parallel sessions has gone up from nine to twelve. The invited lectures are being given by Al Roth (Hahn), Martin Browning (Sargan), and Abhijit Banerjee (Economic Journal). The EJ Conference issue has been brought under the control of the main EJ editorial team, with Steve Machin and Andrew Scott directly responsible. We continue our now traditional series of reports on the conference written by distinguished economic journalists — last year’s report, by Chris Giles of the Financial Times, appeared in the July Newsletter, and Mario Pisani from the Government Economic Service will be covering the highlights of this year’s proceedings.

RES Committees
The Committee on Women in the Economics Profession is chaired by Jane Humphries. CWEP’s periodic surveys of UK economics departments provide the essential statistical material to underpin its activities. We have seen over the past decade a significant, but still slow improvement of the status of female academic economists in the UK. The Society continues its interchanges with the Economic and Social Research Council through its Research Liaison Committee. The new Chair and Secretary of the Committee of Heads of UK Departments of Economics (CHUDE), Neil Rickman and Tim Worrall, presided at a full meeting of CHUDE this morning. The agenda included presentations on the Economics Network (see the RES website), graduate employability, and the use of experiments in the classroom. There was also further discussion of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

The sixth in the series of Annual RES Lectures launched by the committee on the public profile of economics was given by Paul Collier in December. He spoke in London, Sheffield and Edinburgh, on ‘War and Peace in Africa’. The video of the lecture is now online on the RES website. The lectures in this series — from globalisation through the economics of the sex war — show that the best of economic analysis can speak powerfully to the most complex public issues. Nick Stern will deliver the seventh lecture in the series at the end of November this year.

Support for members
Despite our decision to keep the membership subscription frozen for the eighth 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 4 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, Philip Lane and Peter Neary are doing the 17th Easter School at Birmingham on ‘International Economics’. 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.

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