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Financial austerity – economists debate the winners and losers

Posted on 27 May 2015

Business leaders, journalists and economists will gather at the York Festival of Ideas on Friday 19 June to explore whether economic models and systems in use since the Age of Enlightenment and used nationally and globally are actually fit for purpose. The day will be delivered in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Sparks will fly when Katrine Marcal, author of Who cooked Adam Smith’s dinner will open the day by arguing that there is a fatal flaw in our continued reliance on Adam Smith’s representation of how the economy works, which she believes places an over-emphasis on self-interest and ‘economic man’. This will be followed by a full and frank debate on the impact and effectiveness of austerity policies led by Patrick Minford, a former economic advisor to Margaret Thatcher and Zoe Williams, The Guardian columnist.

An international line up of speakers will examine whether current economic policies are leading to an unbalanced impact in relation to poverty, social exclusion and inequality and what role cities play in driving economic growth. The day will also focus on the future of work which is changing rapidly as new technologies allow constant connectivity, blurring the traditional boundaries of work, home and leisure.

The day will also feature talks by Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Euan Munro, Aviva Investors and Ian Brinkley from The Work Foundation.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and David Walker, former director of public reporting at the Audit Commission, will argue that the Cameron coalition used the financial crisis as a pretext for realising a longstanding political ambition to dismantle the post-war welfare and social policy settlement, going further than Margaret Thatcher dared. 

Later in the day Professor Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level will present compelling evidence on why more equal societies almost always do better across a range of socio-economic indicators, including public health.  And John Kay will present an assessment of economic policies likely to emerge from a new Cameron government.

Professor Karen Mumford, a labour market specialist from the University of York’s Department of Economics, said:  “We know large scale inequality leads to slower growing economies. 

"A major challenge of the future is how to ensure the less educated can also move forward with new technology; we need able people to realise that it is worth their while becoming educated.”

Now in its fifth year, the festival was established in 2011 with just 24 events over nine days. Now an annual highlight on York’s cultural calendar, audiences of over 30,000 were reached in 2014 through a mix of performances, exhibitions, talks, focus days, tours, panel discussions and workshops.

Further information:

  • For further information about the 2015 York Festival of Ideas – one of the largest free festivals in the UK - and to book free tickets, visit

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