Introducing Birkbeck’s MSc in Governance, Economics and Public Policy

Sue Konzelmann, Programme Director, shares the rationale behind this interdisciplinary Master’s.

When, as in 2015, one group of economists publicly support proposed new economic policies in the press – immediately resulting in another set of economists reaching for their word processors with an entirely opposing view – it’s a pretty fair bet that the ensuing debate will be at least as much about politics as economics.

Nor is this anything new; John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Von Hayek routinely traded blows in a similar public way between the two World Wars, influencing politicians and governments of very different shades in the process.

You might think that you’d be on firmer ground with corporate governance and its more legally based rules. That is, until you remind yourself that those rules are also largely set by government – and that the views of Clement Attlee’s 1945 socialist government and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government less than forty years later would have been as wildly opposed on corporate governance as they were on pretty much everything else. Whilst Attlee’s government was part of what is (yes, you’ve guessed it) debatably described as the “Keynesian consensus”, Thatcher’s handbag was famously home to Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.

However, in spite of these three subjects – economics, politics and corporate governance – being inextricably linked, they are usually taught separately, an approach which inevitably loses much of the richness of what is, after all, a game that anyone wanting to influence public policy will have to learn to play.

There is, of course, no rule book to follow. Such rules as there are, may be rewritten at any point in time, and for a variety of reasons – but that’s what allows policy to evolve in response to a changing world, changing conventional wisdom or changing politics. It’s a heady mix.

Birkbeck’s new MSc in Governance, Economics and Public Policy not only shows how each of these areas influences – and is, in turn, influenced by – the others; it also sets them into their academic context and relates them to real world events and outcomes.

Although the course was initiated at the suggestion of the Progressive Economy Forum, which has strong links to one of the two opposing groups of economists already mentioned, the course will be taught by colleagues from three of Birkbeck’s world leading Departments – Management, Economics and Politics – with a wide variety of perspectives.

I anticipate that there will be some lively discussions with and amongst the students as well. As a result, one of the first rules to go out of the window, will probably turn out to be the one about never discussing politics in a pub!

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