About the seminar series

This ESRC Seminar Series will explore alternative economic perspectives on the contemporary nature of factor income distribution, work and employment, in the UK economy. The factors to be investigated are capital and labour, and the associated incomes to be investigated are profits (which usually include returns to land in national income data) and wages. The income distribution to capital and labour will be examined, considering the respective power of each in distributive context. The Series will also investigate income distribution within the factor “labour” (i.e. wage distribution). The recent historical context is the contracting output and falling incomes associated with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and this represents a significant force for distributive change. Longer-run issues, and post-crisis patterns will also be investigated. The ramifications of this for distribution will be examined by drawing together economists from a plurality of scholarly perspectives (new Keynesian, feminist, post-Keynesian, Kaleckian, radical), with the intention of fostering dialogue, identifying common recommendations, and highlighting matters for disagreement, with regard to our understanding of what has happened, and the optimal governmental responses to it.

The Seminar Series will include six events in all. These will be linked, so that conceptual and methodological issues are considered in earlier sessions, with the outcomes of these seminars used to inform the topic specified at later events. Initially the Seminar Series will identify the present patterns of factor income distribution, work and employment, in the wake of the GFC. This will be considered in the light of the austerity policies of the present government, and in the context of the distribution, work and employment policies of the New Labour governments before it. Thereafter the Seminar Series will evaluate the most suitable data and empirical methods with which to investigate these themes. In the substantive policy analysis three main topics will be elaborated upon, from a number of economic perspectives: macroeconomic distribution; wage inequality; and, employment and unemployment. The Seminar Series will conclude by evaluating various policies which Governments may adopt in relation to the subject under investigation. These include employment rights, trade union policies, minimum wage legislation, education and skills training, national and regional employment strategies, and policies concerned with unemployment. The overarching topical framework within which these will be evaluated is factor income distribution.

Series Organizers:

A Focus on Impact:

This project will seek to deepen the connection between academic researchers, policymakers and practitioners working within the areas of factor income distribution, work and employment. It will examine a plurality of scholarly approaches, and offer policy prescriptions on the topics for investigation. Policy recommendations, thus devised, will be informed by different conceptual approaches, empirical analyses and normative evaluations. However, in each session, and especially in the closing seminar, the focus will be upon the policy implications of the different treatments.

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) it was recognised that reflection concerning the economics discipline was called for. The discipline was relatively homogeneous in terms of underlying framework and empirical methods. In this context the Head of the Government Economic Service observed: ‘it is not useful to define rigour as sticking to the formal stipulations of any particular school of economic thought’ (Ramsden, 2012, p.4). This Seminar Series responds to this challenge by simultaneously evaluating a plurality of approaches which, taken together, should be considered in formulating practical economic policies which are of use to government policymakers and other stakeholders. Where different theoretical and empirical studies point in the same policy-direction, this would be helpful for practitioners, reinforcing the basis for the policy. Equally, where there is incongruence it is useful to clearly state the conceptual source of this disagreement. This Seminar Series provides a unique focal point for this evaluation.

The policies which are pertinent to the subject of investigation are employment rights, trade union policies, minimum wage legislation, education and skills training, national and regional employment strategies, and policies concerned with unemployment. On this basis practitioners from the following organisations will be invited:

  1. Policymakers and government economists. The six seminars will be of interests to economists in the following Government departments: Department of Business, Innovation and Skills; Department for Communities and Local Government; Department for Work and Pensions; HM Treasury. Government Economics Service staff from each will be invited to attend, and participate in, the Seminar Series. Chris Leslie MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury) has agreed to participate.
  2. Office for National Statistics (ONS). In the second seminar the methods of investigation, and limitations of the data, will be evaluated. As part of this it is intended to seek a participant from the ONS. This will provide an opportunity for academic researchers to engage with the organisation which gathers and collates UK data directly. Presenters will also compare UK data with other countries’ data, in particular US data.
  3. Employee Organisations. The TUC Economics and Social Affairs Department have been contacted to solicit engagement. The participation of additional Trade Unions (e.g. USDAW) will also be sought. Given the interest in factor income distribution, and the potential conflicts which may arise as a consequence, ACAS would represent another interested practitioner body. Dialogue with the TUC about representation at the Seminar Series is on-going.
  4. Employer Groups. Dr Stephen Rosevear (Director of Research and Policy, Cogent Sector Skills Council) has agreed to participate. Cogent is the Sector Skills Council for the Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Nuclear, Life Sciences, Petroleum and Polymer Industries. They are licensed by Government to help employers in these science-using industries to address their workforce development needs so that they can compete successfully.

In addition to liaising with policymakers and practitioners, the series will seek to inform the public more broadly concerning distribution (see Pathways to Impact).

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