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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Econ Professor Danny Blanchflower

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Danny Blanchflower.jpgDanny Blanchflower, CBE is the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Economics at the College, and his research has broken ground in multiple areas of labor economics. Yet he’s become truly well known for his three-year stint as an outspoken dissenter on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (the UK equivalent of the Federal Reserve Board) and for his incisive and frequent public commentary on the state of the economy in the United States, Britain, and around the world.

Blanchflower didn’t always seem destined for economic celebrity. After earning his Bachelors degree from the University of Leicester, he received a certificate and began teaching high school economics in Wolverhampton. But four years of that was enough; he became interested in youth unemployment (and uninterested in teaching the same material year after year). That conclusion led him to a Masters at the University of Wales, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of London — a degree which Blanchflower earned in 21 months, apparently the fastest in school history. Starting in 1986 he became an assistant professor at the University of Surrey, and three years later he crossed the pond to join the Dartmouth faculty.

President James Freedman wooed Blanchflower to the College partially because of the young professor’s breakthrough research in understanding the wage curve. In what is still one of his most influential papers, Blanchflower and his co-author proved that the conventional wisdom that wages are highest when unemployment is lowest was flat out wrong. They showed that economists had been relying on just one sliver of data (the U.S. in the 1960s), and they determined that when you expanded the data to include many countries and multiple decades, the effect was clearly the opposite: higher joblessness means lower pay basically everywhere at all times.

Another paper of Blanchflower’s is What Makes an Entrepreneur?, published in the Journal of Labor Economics in 1998. While he jokes that the paper was successful in large part because of the title, it examined the important question of whether entrepreneurs — those who create jobs for themselves and others — were born or bred. The results showed that entrepreneurs were certainly not naturally endowed with special abilities from birth, but rather most were lucky enough to be rich. The ability to overcome capital constraints was the most significant positive indicator.

Economics and happiness don’t always go together, but Blanchflower explored the pair in his most-cited work, Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA. Analyzing surveys of happiness and well-being among populations over many years, he showed consistent patterns. Unemployment lowers happiness, marriage raises it (a lasting partnership, he estimates, is worth $100,000 a year), and children are inconsequential. Money buys happiness, but less than having a dog. Relative income is important: people in rich countries get less pleasure from a raise than those in poorer countries. The first million dollars makes people a lot happier than their 30th. And most people see a U-shaped correlation between age and happiness — your 40’s are the lowest point.

All told, Blanchflower is a standout researcher among the faculty, with more than 20,000 citations and an h-index of 60, according to Google Scholar. But he also gets out into the wider world. From 2006 to 2009, Blanchflower took a three-year leave from the College to serve as a member of the Monetary Policy Committee for the Bank of England. During that critical period, he was frequently isolated as a doomsayer; he called for interest rates to be cut as early as 2007, and he was eventually proved correct about the upcoming financial crisis and many of its after-effects. In 2009, Blanchflower was honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen (the photo above shows him with his CBE medal).

Since then he has written widely in the popular media on subjects such as monetary and labor policy, and national and international economics. Blanchflower served as a contributing editor for Bloomberg TV from 2011 to 2015 and as a columnist at The Independent from 2012 to 2015. Most recently, he called Brexit “a self-inflicted and unmitigated economic disaster,” among other things. You can also follow his frequent updates on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Blanchflower still loves teaching (as long as it’s not high school). He’s scheduled to teach four advanced undergraduate economics courses in the coming academic year, including Econ 47: Labor Economics, Econ 76: The Financial Crisis of the Noughties, and sections of Econ 46: Topics in Money and Finance, and Econ 49: Topics in International Economics. But if you’re planning to take one of those classes, don’t expect it to be by the book. Blanchflower gives his students a syllabus but immediately says it’s worthless — he’s just as likely to break down the economic news of the day with them as do the scheduled lesson plan.

Addendum: Last week Danny and bestselling author and economist Thomas Piketty made headlines when they quit the Labour Party’s economic advisory council, leaving Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn decidedly bereft of advice on Brexit and its effect on the British economy.

Watch Danny describe on FoxBusiness last week how his different predictions about interest rates have come true:

It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!


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