A Macroeconomic Tour of London

This tour can be conducted on foot, but links to virtual resources are also provided. 

55 Broadway, SW1H 0BD

This is a grade 1 art deco building near St James’ park, originally home to the London Underground. It’s not particularly tall (it’s only slightly bigger than Big Ben, and half the height of St Paul’s Cathedral) but given that it has a steel frame it is not only a skyscraper, but London’s first! (It doesn’t look like a skyscraper, but the stone encasing provides no structural integrity. Sadly, it closed in January 2020.

If you visit, try to spot the naked sculptures, Night and Day, on the outside of the building. (For controversy on this, see here).

HM Treasury, SW1A 2HQ

The Treasury is responsible for public finance and economic policy of the UK. It is located within the Government Offices in Great George Street, near Parliament Square. It has a large internal courtyard and the basement is home to the Churchill War Rooms (part of the Imperial War Museum).

Fun fact: It served as the headquarters for MI6 in the Bond movie, Spectre, and was the starting point of the street race in Fast And Furious 6.

11 Downing Street, SW1A 2AB

Next door to the most famous address in the UK (10 Downing Street is the government headquarters and traditionally the private residence of the Prime Minister), 11 Downing Street is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is the equivalent of a “Minister of Finance”, which is the person responsible for fiscal policy.

Fun fact: Because the private living space is larger at no. 11 than no. 10, when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997 he decided to live there instead. Every subsequent prime minster has done the same thing.

Take a virtual tour here: https://artsandculture.google.com/u/0/partner/10-downing-street

Bank of England, EC2R 8AH

Established in 1694 this is one of the oldest banks in the world and a model for central banks. It was nationalised in 1946. It has a monopoly on producing banknotes in England and Wales, and is responsible for the conduct of UK monetary policy.

There is an excellent museum in the basement, and several online exhibits, including this one on banknotes. The basement also houses the Bank of England vaults, which contain over 400,000 bars of gold.

A Tour of London’s Markets

This tour can be conducted on foot, but links to virtual resources are also provided. 

Portobello Market, W11 1AN

The world’s largest antique market, in the famous Notting Hill. It’s main trading day is Saturday but the area also contains numerous permanent shops. Follow on Instagram to see details of virtual fashion markets on Fridays.

Brick Lane Market, E1 6QR

Containing bric-a-brac as well as fruit and vegetables, Brick Lane market is part of London’s East End and close to the world famous cluster of curry houses. The market is is open on Sundays and can get very busy! For more information see here or here.

Smithfield Market, EC1A 9PS

Smithfield Market is technically called “London Central Markets” and is located in Farringdon. It is one of the largest wholesale meat markets in the world and the site has hosted livestock for over 800 years.

There is a 90-minute tour that costs £12.50. You can book a tour here: https://www.cityoflondonguides.com/tours/smithfield-market-tours-monthly

Fun fact: Scottish revolutionary William Wallace, otherwise known as “Braveheart”, was killed at Smithfield in 1305.

Borough Market, SE1 1TL

Borough Market is one of the oldest and largest food markets in London, dating back to the 12th century. The present buildings were built in the 1850s and house an eclectic mix of speciality foods. Open Monday – Saturday.

For a virtual tour click here.

London Metal Exchange (LME), EC2A 1AJ

The London Metal Exchange (LME) originates from 1571, but was formed in 1877 and moved to its current location in 2016. It remains one of the few physical trading floors for a major commodity market – activity is conducted within an open outcry “ring”, which gets its name from when traders would mark out a ring using chalk on a coffeehouse floor. For more on its history see here.

New York

The city as the engine for social change and increasing well-being is one of the truly great triumphs of our amazing ability to form social groups and collectively take advantage of economies of scale (West, 2017, p.186).

New York is the classic metropolis.

Most great cities have a similar aspect – the river upon which it originates provides a bearing and context. I love Liverpool in part because the two Mersey tunnels preserve the unique skyline. New York – and when I say New York I obviously mean Manhattan – is special because there is no dominant waterfront. The fact that it’s an island makes it inward looking, and instead of being in a city to judge by itself, you feel that you are at the centre of all cities, and therefore all modern civilization.

My first trip to New York was via bus from Washington DC. We were offloaded in Chinatown and it was freezing cold, so we went straight into the nearest diner for coffee and doughnuts. After dumping our bags in the hostel we raced to the Empire State Building and caught the last elevator ride up. What was damp rain at street level was snowfall at the top. Romantic, and majestic.

My last trip was to present a paper at the Eastern Economic Association annual conference. The keynote was delivered by Ed Glaeser, the world’s leading economist on cities. He is a sharp, dazzling speaker, and watching him perform with a New York City backdrop was a thrill. Satisfying, and triumphant.

What I love most about cities is the juxtaposition of energy and possibility and the amount of personal space they provide. An atomised city provides a certain sanctity. Here’s how to spend time alone in NYC.

Cities are the crucible of civilization, the hubs of innovation, the engines of wealth creation and centres of power, the magnets that attract creative individuals, and the stimulant for ideas, growth, and innovation. (West 2017, p.215).

The downside of this, of course, is the potential to slip out of life, unnoticed. Cities come with costs.

They are the prime loci of crime, pollution, poverty, disease, and the consumption of energy and resources. Rapid urbanization and accelerating economic development have generated multiple global challenges ranging from climate change and its environmental impacts to incipient crises in food, energy, and water availability, public health, financial markets, and the global economy (West 2017, p.215).

But surely we can agree that the solutions to these modern problems must include (i) energy efficiency; and (ii) wealth. Thus cities are crucial.

Each trip to New York is a combination of revisiting favourite eateries and seeking new ones.

I recommend:

  • Ivan Ramen – (New York Times, one of my favourite episodes of Chef’s Table). I’ve only been the spin off, Slurp Shop, but enjoyed it immensely.
  • Sombrero – ok, this isn’t particularly impressive cuisine but when you come from the UK, and the alternative is a chain such as Tortilla or Chiquitos, it’s nice to sit in a Mexican restaurant, with a wide range of tequilas, and full plates of decent fare. My main motivation for my first visit was the proximity to my hotel, but I went back a second time for familiarity. Not a strong recommend, but a place close to my heart.
  • Xi’an famous noodles – I vouch for the Spicy Cumin Lamb burger, but there’s a lovely depth of heat and lip tingling joy across the menu.

To try:

  • Pisillo Italian Panini – the first sub that I had in NYC blew me away. Multiple meats, and it required a dislocated jaw to bite into! Contrast that with a single slice of wafer thin him, and perhaps a slice of cheese that you’d get in the UK. For a wide choice of Italian style subs, this is the place
  • Faicco’s Italian specialties (and apparently it has to be an Italian special)
  • Katz – the classic deli
  • Los Tacos, in Chelsea Market
  • Bleaker’s Pizza, Greenwich
  • Joe’s Pizza
  • Taim, West Village

Recommended bars:

  • The Turnmill – this is the official bar of the Everton FC NYC supporters club. What’s better than a packed pub in a foreign city, on a matchday, covered in TVs, full of fellow fans? Savour the crisp walk of anticipation from the subway ready to sink a cold pint at 10am. Bizarre, but worth doing.
  • The Garret
  • Employees Only

I’m not sure when I’ll next go back to NYC. But I miss it.

Poker

I don’t play poker but I have a couple of friends that do. I recently asked them what resources they’d recommend for people wanting to get into it, and thought I’d share their advice.

How to…

My websites


Blogs I edit(ed)

“Strategies emerge for coping. There are many, but in essence they all boil down to two: filter and search”  Gleick, 2011, p.409

The Filter^ was created in a Birkenhead chippy, in January 2004. Stephen Lai and Anthony Evans were both recent graduates from the University of Liverpool, and wanted to present interesting and accessible academic ideas to a wider audience.


Created in July 2004, The Filter^ REVIEW is an online assembly of cultural essays. Encompassing opera, music, theatre, and architecture our range of reviewers provide honest and independent assessments of live events. Our motivation is enthusiasm, and providing our part of the social contract between audience and stage. My theatre reviews are available here.

 

Packing

I enjoyed reading this interview with Luxury Escape’s CEO Adam Schwab and decided to geg in.

MY PACKING STYLE IS …

Rules > Discretion. Most trips that I make fit into a particular category – e.g. 2 weeks summer holiday, 1 week skiing, 3 days teaching/conference. For each type of trip I have a packing list and take the same things each time. Perhaps not the exact same items, but the same type of items. This avoids having to think about what I should take. If I feel the need to alter the packing list I always do it at the end of a trip rather than before.

MY TOP PACKING HACK IS …

Duplicate toiletries. I have a toothbrush, deodorant, razor, etc that I keep in a toilet bag and only use on trips. It means that I never have to collect those items from around the house and risk forgetting anything. It also means I don’t have to unpack when I get home.

I PACK FOR A TRIP BY …

Finding my packing list and rigidly sticking to it.

MY ESSENTIALS FOR A WORK TRIP INCLUDE …

  • iPhone and all necessary chargers
  • A good book
  • Either decent earbuds for short haul, or noise cancelling headphones for long haul
  • Throat lozenges
  • Bottle opener

MY LUGGAGE IS …

A Rimowa Topas.

MY TOP CARRY ON TIP …

A glossy magazine, such as The Week or The Economist. It’s often rude to plug into an iPhone as soon as you sit down and it’s hard to relax until the plane’s moving anyway. So it’s good to have something light and easy to read for take off/landing.

I NEVER BOARD A FLIGHT WITHOUT …

Touching the outside of the aircraft at the exact moment I step on board.

MY OUTFIT WHEN I TRAVEL …

Comfort. It used to be cargo trousers or sometimes jeans. But as dress standards have steadily fallen I’ve followed suit and so now it’s either tracksuit bottoms or shorts. A hoody and/or baseball cap helps to shut out the world. I sometimes wear a gilet so that I have accessible pockets but without getting too stuffy.

MY WASH BAG STAPLES INCLUDE …

Indigestion tablets, especially if I’m in Eastern Europe where the food is rich and the Rakija is tempting.

I USED TO PACK …

Too many pairs of trousers. They’re rarely worth the bulk and a pair can be worn on consecutive days.

MY BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE WAS …

Believing I would need smart shoes but not wanting to wear them to travel.

MY GO-TO TRAVEL APP IS …

I used to use a fantastic flight app called Flight Track Pro, but it doesn’t work anymore. So I don’t really use anything.

I MAKE A HOTEL ROOM FEEL LIKE HOME BY …

The best part of a hotel room is that it doesn’t feel like home! I clear the desk so that I can lay out my own items (i.e. knoll) and then bask in the neutrality.

I’M DETERMINED TO IMPROVE MY PACKING HABITS BY …

At some point I may give up on checking my bag. I’d need to rethink my toiletries and perhaps pack even lighter. But for now I’m happy to spend a few minutes at the baggage reclaim, reflecting on the flight, and waiting.

Christmas Reading

Christmas is a great hook to think about economic concepts. For students, the urgency of course requirements eases and it’s permissible to deepen your interests. For interested laypeople, time to read allows you to broaden your horizons. Perhaps you received a “pop economics” book as a present, or – like me – you look forward every year to The Economist’s Christmas Special. I wanted to share some of my favourite resources.

  • The classic application of economics analysis to Christmas is The Deadweight Loss of Christmas
  • The Bank of England produced a Christmas Quiz for 2020
  • The best Christmas Party in a movie, was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
  • The best one in a TV show was The Office.
  • For a fascinating account of what frankincense and myrrh are, and their role in the evolution of global trade, see Bernstein, W. (2008) “A Splendid Exchange” – pp. 58-67
  • Finally, don’t forget to do some charity work:
    • “Christians should not celebrate festivals in a state of drunkenness and gluttony, or by dancing or merrymaking, but by tending to orphans and paupers, and by helping and giving to the poor and infirm… Woe betide those who have not observed the wisdom of the scriptures and who have idled, danced and indulged in wine”
    • Cyril of Turov (see Bazan, L., 2014, A History of Belarus, Glagoslav Publications, p.64)

Media engagements

The chief goal of any academic is to have scholarly impact – to be published in elite journals and for your work to be read, shared, and cited. But it’s also common to seek wider impact, and publicise those findings and implications with society at large.

One problem is that our research topics are often driven by the existing literature. Therefore pursuing an academic career can easily become a slide towards wider irrelevance. As we focus on scaling the ivory tower, we lose track of what anyone else cares about. Before we realise it, the landscape looks like this:

Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we can identify the areas where media interest overlaps with our research interests. Therefore we can create a list of topics we feel qualified to talk about, and seek media engagements. We can be available for comment and publish op-eds on newsworthy issues. But be careful. We might have made scholarly contributions to the field, and we may well be experts, but those topics won’t map perfectly onto “my research”.

Once we abandon the solid grounding of our published competence, we’ve started a dangerous journey. There is a risk that we end up like this:

By being receptive to media engagements we are opening ourselves to the pull of opportunity. But what your PR company deem to be a “hit” (i.e. being quoted in an article in a magazine no one cares about) is not really a “hit”, and a desire to do this tempts us to stray outside our areas of expertise. If someone wants a comment we provide it – it builds the brand and it’s fun. The ego is nourished, we feel that we’re representing our institution, we’re being productive. (However our titles and status carry authority, and the wider public are likely to confuse the light blue dot for a dark blue dot. I believe that it is unethical to utilise our credentials for matters outside of one’s expertise. I could add links here, but I won’t…).

The holy grail, therefore, is to end up like this:

I think fame seeking academics have two potential strategies. However both of them carry risks.

  1. If you can’t beat them, join them. The first option is to move our research towards wherever the media interest lies (either by tweaking our current research projects in that direction; or by starting new research projects from scratch). However using current media interest as the guiding principle of your academic strategy has the potential to backfire. It takes time to gain academic legitimacy and what’s to say interest won’t move on? In addition, the media interest will draw in other academics to create a contested and competitive environment that is attracting opportunists. As I see more and more people jumping on the blockchain bandwagon I assume that they’re following this strategy (although this is a charitable interpretation because in many cases it’s probably a light blue dot rather than a dark blue one…). I’m wary.
  2. Hope the mountain comes to Mohammed. The second way to occupy the overlap is to get your head down, do quality work, rise to the top of your field, get widespread recognition, and become the go to person for that topic. That, in itself, can be newsworthy. Win prizes, break records, give talks at elite institutions.

Personally, I am not sure what to do. I’ve tried to be entrepreneurial by choosing a few topics that I think have the potential to become important, and I am working hard to improve the quality of my scholarly work. But I’m largely abandoning the aim of creating a media profile for my research.

Let’s be honest, the media do not care about academic research. When we issue press releases for a new publication it’s because we want to share it. However even if it’s published in an open access journal newspapers will rarely link to the actual paper anyway. Even PR companies act as gatekeepers for the actual paper, and promote the top line findings without allowing third parties to actually verify them. We have a crisis of scientific replication, and yet there’s a complete disjoint between how research is presented and our ability to engage with it.

Journalists don’t care about your research, they care about their article. They are writing articles to a deadline and need to fill them. They need contacts who will be available and tell them what they expect to hear. Editors don’t care about your research. They care about copy. They need people who supply well written content on a theme they want to publish.

I am aware that my profession and institution are underrepresented by people who aren’t white males. And as a white male I should reflect on my role in that. As I lose the novelty of youth I question whether the best use of my time is supplying free content to unremarkable publications by crowding out other voices.

***

Pivoting away from attempts to promote our research profile, however, doesn’t mean wallowing in academic irrelevance, and it doesn’t mean giving up on communicating economic ideas. It just means a recognition that our biggest value to the media is almost certainly a result of our teaching knowledge rather than our research findings. This is because the pool of media interest in which we’re able to play in is much wider when we act as teachers rather than researchers.

This may seems as though I’m risking becoming a light blue dot. But wearing our teaching hats massively expands our scope of “expertise”, provided we recognise the topics will be broader. As Steve Horwitz recently said on Facebook,

Advice for young economists who wonder whether they have enough expertise on a topic to do media requests on it: If you think you can explain your views to an Intro class, you can do media on that topic.

My caveat to that was:

But you need to be able to explain it to an Intro class and it needs to be an issue that you would indeed explain to an Intro class.

So rather than send our new PR agency a list of my research topics, I’ve sent the following:

  • Price gouging – if a firm raises prices during a natural disaster I’m happy to defend their choice to do so and explain why it can actually benefits consumers.
  • Creative destruction – if a firm goes bankrupt through entrepreneurial error I’m happy to explain why this is crucial to a competitive market.
  • Free trade – if there’s a story about tariffs I’m happy to explain how they harm consumers and make us collectively worse off.
  • Offshoring – if a firm offshores production I’m happy to defend their decision and explain how this benefits workers in (typically) poorer countries.
  • Corporation tax – I’m happy to defend cuts to corporation tax on the grounds that they boost the wages of that companies employees.
  • Tax avoidance – I’m happy to defend the use of “aggressive” tax avoidance schemes and explain why the problem is complexity in the tax code.
  • Efficient Market Hypothesis – if an investment firm claims to be able to outperform a market index I’m happy to argue that this is bad investment advice.

I also think it’s potentially legitimate to comment on hot topics such as:

  • The gender pay gap
  • Brexit
  • A specific companies strategy
  • Executive pay
  • Congestion charging
  • Pandemics

Provided you limit your comments to the simple application of the economic way of thinking. However I fear that this won’t be providing journalists with what they want (which is a hook, or something controversial), and there’s a very real danger that you do turn into a light blue dot. So I personally avoid these topics. Leave them for commentators and opinion leaders and academic experts in the field. Don’t wade in as one masquerading as the other.

Finally, Steve Horwitz is also right to point out that such media engagements are also advantageous for the institution. Indeed I’ve stopped seeing media work as part of my research profile. It’s actually organisational (and civic) citizenship.