The Annual Report of the Secretary-General

The Secretary-General, Professor Richard Portes, presented the following report on the Society's activities to its Annual General Meeting, on 21st March during the 2004 Annual Conference at Nottingham.

The RES Annual Conference returned this year to the Nottingham, where we had a very successful meeting in 1999. 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 is an annual occasion for members of the Society to discuss their work and the issues facing economics in the UK and elsewhere. But the Royal Economic Society has a wide range of activities, and I shall report on our journals and the work of our various committees. I shall also discuss how RES expenditures support our members and the progress of our discipline.

After last year’s changing of the guard, the new officers, editors and committee chairs have been working into their roles. We are beginning to see the changes initiated by our new President, John Sutton; the new editors of the Economic Journal and the Econometrics Journal; and the new chairs of CHUDE (the Committee of Heads of University Departments of Economics), the Committee on Women in the Profession, and the Committee on the Public Profile of Economics.

John Sutton has been characteristically thorough and judicious in his leadership of the Council and its Executive Committee. With the Treasurer, Penelope Rowlatt, he has led a reconsideration of our investment policies. He has also brought the Council and CHUDE to consider various proposals for launching a ‘job market’, whether or not in association with the Annual Conference. These discussions continue, and we can expect to see the outcome in the next few months. The Council, who are also the Trustees of the RES (as an educational charity), make the final decisions on major policy proposals. New members are elected annually, and we welcome at this AGM six recently-elected members of the Council: Orazio Attanasio, Wendy Carlin, Amelia Fletcher, Hamish McRae, Mark B Stewart, and Mike Wickens.

Our Annual Conference is very different from that of our sister organization, the American Economic Association, perhaps closer to those of our French and German analogues (Association Française des Sciences Economiques, Verein für Sozialpolitik). David Warsh’s perceptive report on last year’s conference (Newsletter no.126, July 2004) brought out some of these features. He recalled how the Annual Conference developed from the initiative of Frank Hahn, President of the RES in the mid-1980s, to combine the RES annual general meeting with the annual conference of the Association of University Teachers of Economics. He went on to give general assessments of the invited lectures, the special sessions, and the contributed paper sessions, with a comparison of the overall ambience to regional association meetings in the United States. David had promised to return this year simply as a participant and observer, but a reporting task for his weekly has kept him in the US. We hope to welcome him next year. Heather Stewart of The Observer will be reporting on this year’s conference.

The RES is a large, international institution. We have almost 3000 individual members, of whom over 60 per cent are based outside the UK, and almost 2400 institutional members (essentially, subscribers to the Economic Journal and Econometrics Journal). Naturally, however, our primary preoccupations are with issues that concern the academic profession in the UK, although these are often better appreciated in an international context.

An example is the UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the next round of which is gathering steam. The RES and CHUDE have taken a close, sometimes critical interest in the RAE and have worked hard to influence its procedures, criteria and choice of assessors in ways that we believe to be professionally appropriate. Whatever the objections to the RAE, however, there is no doubt it has effected a remarkable change in incentives. The stimulus of competition is strong, even if imposed from above in a heavily regulated environment rather than developing from below with light regulation. It has induced unprecedented market-led responses from our institutions, and this has interacted with the growing internationalisation of our PhD students and faculty. It is instructive to contrast this new environment with the relative insularity and lack of competitive pressures in the German and French universities — see the reports from Ray Rees in the July 2004 Newsletter and from Alan Kirman in the January 2005 Newsletter. I believe that overall the results are positive for both research and teaching, but we still must be concerned that we are unable to draw UK-trained undergraduates into our PhD programmes. The problems analysed by the Machin-Oswald report (Economic Journal June 2000, F334-349) are still very much with us, and it is no consolation that the top American university graduate programmes are also populated primarily by students with non-American university undergraduate training — some of them, of course, our own.

The new team of editors came in during last summer to manage the Economic Journal. Mike Wickens reported the efforts and achievements of the outgoing editors in the January 2005 Newsletter. They restructured the journal and enhanced its status as a leading general journal. The Society is very grateful indeed for their work. The new editors are Andrew Scott (London Business School), who succeeds Mike Wickens as coordinating Managing Editor and is joined by Marianne Bertrand (Chicago GBS), Leonardo Felli (London School of Economics), and Jaume Ventura (Universitat Pompeu Fabra). Steve Machin (University College London) continues as Features Editor. They have reaffirmed their ambition to raise the quality and impact of the journal, and they have put some emphasis on attracting submissions in economic theory, with EJ support for the European Summer Symposium in Economic Theory. The new team has also installed new software so that we have ‘straight-through’ electronic processing of manuscripts, and they are putting considerable effort into reducing the publication lag, while setting high standards for refereeing and editorial assessment. The new administrator, Heather Daly, is a great asset to the editorial team and to authors.

The Econometrics Journal, our fully electronic product, continues to thrive, now under the managing editorship of Karim Abadir.

The Newsletter is the primary source for information about the RES and its activities — and much more. Peter Howells, the Editor, commissions 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. I have illustrated its range in references above to Newsletter articles. Members should turn to it for a wide range of news of the profession (including, sadly, obituaries) as well as the feature articles.

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 yesterday’s and today’s newspapers about papers to be presented here in Nottingham. The Society's media initiative is widely recognised as a model for other disciplines, and we are determined to build on this to enhance the public profile of economics and demonstrate its relevance. We try very hard to make it clear that true relevance must be based on serious analysis and empirical work. But it is essential to make that work accessible to a non-technical audience.

Annual Conference
This is the sixth Annual Conference overseen by Jonathan Haskel, who chairs our Conference committee. It will be his last as Conference Secretary, and we are extremely grateful for his efficient and effective leadership. Richard Disney, 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 Bengt Holmström (Hahn), Orley Ashenfelter (Sargan), Ariel Rubinstein (Economic Journal), and Clive Granger. The EJ Conference issue will be edited by Rachel Griffith and Carlo Perroni. The local organiser at Nottingham is Steve Humphrey, to whom many thanks.

RES Committees
The Committee on Women in the Economics Profession is now chaired by Jane Humphries. CWEP will have a special session during this Conference, and its activities and output are set out in detail on the RES website. It is currently conducting another major survey of UK economics departments to obtain the essential statistical material to underpin its activities. 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 now chairs CHUDE, which met this morning. Its agenda included a wide-ranging discussion with the Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council as well as consideration of the current stage of preparations for the next Research Assessment Exercise.

The committee on the public profile of economics is now chaired by Andrew Dilnot. The fourth in the series of Annual RES Lectures launched by the committee was given by Carol Propper in London and Edinburgh. A brief article summing up her discussion of ‘Why economics is good for your health’ appeared in the January 2005 issue of the Newsletter, and a revised version of the lecture will be posted on the RES website. The lectures in this series — from globalisation through competition economics — together with the topics of the invited lectures in this Annual Conference show that the best of economic analysis can speak powerfully to the most complex of policy problems. The fifth lecture in the series will be given in London and Edinburgh by Paul Seabright 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.

Support for members
Despite our decision to keep the membership subscription frozen for the sixth 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 9 May). 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, for example, Philippe Aghion and Nobu Kiyotaki on ‘Macrodynamics and growth’. 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. Anton Muscatelli now administers these funds, succeeding Chris Milner, whose long and efficient service deserves many thanks.

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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