Brian Hindley

I met Brian Hindley in 1985 at one of my very first international conferences on trade policy. After my presentation, Brian came to me, and, with his usual kind and warm simplicity, he told me that we should work together on European trade policy matters. Such a behavior reflects his spontaneity, lack of prejudice and ultimately deep modesty. At that time, Brian was already a deeply respected economist, one of the leading figures of the Trade Policy Research Centre (TPRC) which was at its zenith as a think tank.

First and foremost, Brian was a ‘man of conviction’. This is a frequent feature among PhDs from the University of Chicago — he was proud to be from this university. But, I never saw him aggressive or intolerant, even when his arguments were devastating for his opponents. He conveyed his convictions through a very active involvement to a string of think tanks: the TPRC, the Trade Policy Division at the World Bank (which was run as a think tank in the 1980s), the Bruges Group which supported a ‘Thatcherian’ view of Europe, the Centre for European Studies (CES), and lastly the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) where we were blessed to have him on board since its creation.

Brian was a very influential member of all these think tanks. In the 1970s and 80s, his TPRC years were largely devoted to fighting the then fashionable ‘new’ protectionism (voluntary export restraints). His papers focused on the costs of Britain’s trade policy, and he was one of the first to provide well-documented analyses of sectoral protection with calculations of the costs and benefits of protection in a partial equilibrium context. He was also among the first economists to deal with services (insurance) at a time when everybody was obsessed by steel and textiles.

When he became closely associated with the World Bank, he expanded his work on developing countries. He was among the first economists to both argue forcefully that the ‘special and differential treatment’ on which the developing countries were insisting in the GATT was a deadly trap for them, but also that the rich countries were imposing discriminatory protection very detrimental to the poorer countries’ development.

During his World Bank years, Brian discovered a topic that he never abandoned: the then still confidential instruments of protection-antidumping, anti-subsidy and safeguard. This ‘conditional protection’ was a topic of great fascination for both of us. Their intrinsic nature of well defined legal cases involving a limited amount of firms, the corresponding rich and detailed information on what was really going on allowed economists to have deeper insights on how protection really works-how a few firms are able to capture governments and to ‘privatize’ protection. All these features permitted Brian to be one of the most persuasive economists on underlining how deeply these instruments were quietly-but devastatingly — taking over ‘industrial policies’ which were increasingly out of fashion.

It is when we were both working on conditional protection that Brian taught me the beauty of simple economic analysis and clear language. He was a master in these domains. Hearing Brian analyzing an antidumping case-jumping from law to economics and vice-versa, stating carefully and clearly his initial ‘propositions’ — in his classic and classy English was always a feast to my ears.

The next period was his ‘Thatcherian’ years, starting with the Bruges Group. The huge costs of the Common Agricultural Policy, the deep ambiguities behind the creation of the single market, the poor quality of the debates on the euro and on the so-called European Constitution convinced him that the United Kingdom would benefit from leaving an European Community rebaptised European Union. I only now realized that what he had in mind as the optimal British trade policy is indeed the trade policy that Chile or South Korea have pursued during the past decade with great success, by establishing a set of bilateral free trade agreements as a substitute for stuck WTO negotiations. He was a couple of decades ahead.

During his ECIPE years, he expanded his work on antidumping and services-with a special interest for ‘protection online’ related to internet in a WTO-based world where co-exist collusive strategies, political censorship, moral or religious considerations. He also turned to new issues, such as the naïve EU ‘soft’ power which is so short of serious analyses of the economic impact of EU regulations on the intended non-EU beneficiaries, such as in the case of illegal logging. He also became interested in the bumpy road to the WTO of two key former USSR countries-Russia and Kazakhstan-arguing for well-focused progress, rather than a WTO-based grand design.

When, twenty years ago, he was talking to me about this brave new world emerging in front of us, Brian showed a much deeper understanding of the full consequences of the rise of East Asia than many Europeans or Americans today. This is because he was looking at East Asia in a profound way, as the ‘adventurer’ he was, eager to meet people, and not only to talk about economics. He was very proud to have been an ally of Akio Morita, the charismatic Sony's CEO. For him, it was one of the best recognitions he ever got of his role as a ‘bridge’ between people and of his independent mind. A final tribute to his personality. Brian was always ready to laugh but — and that is a true rarity — he also loved to be teased. We used to tease each other endlessly, including about his firm conviction as a Republican Englishman. I cannot resist to tease him a last time: Brian was a true nobleman.

Patrick A Messerlin
Sciences Po, Paris

From issue no. 158, July 2012, pp.23-4.

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