Bristol Talks Economics: Jonathan Haskel, Bristol alumnus

Jonathan Haskel, Bristol alumnus and Professor at Imperial College LondonBristol Talks Economics continued in December, welcoming Professor Jonathan Haskel. University of Bristol alumnus, Jonathan is Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School and Director of the Doctoral Programme at the School. He is also an external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee


The EFM Society’s Ben Pimley provides a summary of another insightful, interactive discussion.

Q. Who is Jonathan Haskel?

A. Jonathan Haskel is a former student and lecturer here at Bristol University and now a Professor of Economics at Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London. He was appointed to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee in September 2018.

Professor Haskel is hugely experienced having taught at a number of universities in the UK and United States and served on the editorial board of various economic journals including Economica. He has also worked with the ONS, UK Statistics Authority, and Competition Commission.

Q. What did JH discuss during the talk?

A. The talk centred on a discussion of productivity and the production function – a foundational concept in undergraduate economics – but one that can seem abstract. JH brought it to life using the example from Virginia Postrel’s new book The Fabric of Civilisation: How Textiles Made the World – a pair of jeans requires 6 miles of thread which took 37 days in the Bronze Age, 13 days in pre-modern India, and now takes 3 seconds on mechanised spinning devices. This startling fact has enabled civilisation to advance because we now take our clothes for granted and produce much more complex products rather than just cloth which used to absorb all working hours. Productivity, as Paul Krugman the Nobel Prize-winning economist said, “isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything”. Thus it is even more crucial that we understand why productivity has slowed down today and particularly after the Financial Crisis in 2008. Jonathan’s book Capitalism without Capital goes some way to addressing this issue by charting the rise of intangible investment but there is a wider story of secular stagnation within the economy emphasised by Lawrence Summers and others such as Robert Gordon.

Q. Why is JH important, influential for students studying economics?

A. As a Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member, Jonathan is at the forefront of the UK’s economic response to the coronavirus-induced recession and the questions in the second half of the event reflected this. He gave interesting answers to several questions including:

  • Does the prospect of mainstream digital work support a boost in productivity for deprived parts of the UK by reducing geographic frictions in the labour market?
  • Do you think there needs to be fundamental changes to the school curriculum with more focus on technical skills like coding and soft skills like communication and teamwork?
  • What is your view on the use of universal basic income in the economic recovery from COVID-19 and beyond?

Overall, a very insightful talk from a lovely guest and I would encourage students to check the recorded discussion out on YouTube for inspiration as to where a degree in economics from Bristol can take you!

The Bristol Talks Economics series is run by the Economics, Finance and Management (EFM) Society.