Third Annual Conference

Understanding Social Macroeconomics

Virtual Conference: 21. October 2020 - 23. October 2020

Day 1: Wednesday, 21 October:
The Nature of Economic Reality
9:15 - 14:30 BST
Day 2: Thursday, 22 October:
Methods of Analysis
9:15 - 17:15 BST
Day 3: Friday, 23 October:
Cultures of Expertise in Macro
9:15 - 16:00 BST

09.15 Chair for day: Angus Armstrong,    Director of Rebuilding Macroeconomics (recording here)

09.30 Opening Remarks: Rt Hon Jesse Norman MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, “What are the Macroeconomic Questions Today and Tomorrow?” (recording here)

10.15 Break

10.30 Session 1: Levels of Analysis

Social interactions are structurally organized, suggesting that the meso-level and place might be a more appropriate levels of analysis for macroeconomics. (recording here)

Chair of panel: Ekaterina Svetlova, University of Leicester (recording here)

- Henrietta Moore, Director of the Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL: The Economics of Belonging (recording here)

- Dennis Snower, President of Global Solutions Summit and Oxford University: Social Groups as the Unit of Analysis (recording here)

- Jason Potts,RMIT University, Melbourne: The Meso Foundations of Macroeconomics (recording here)

12.00 Break

13.00 Session 2: Evolutionary macroeconomics (recording here)

Understanding an adaptive system requires exploring lower levels of the system, but it does not follow that aggregate can always be explained from the lowest level up.

Chair: Mary Morgan, London School of Economics (recording here)

- David Sloan Wilson, Evolution Institute and Binghampton University: Rethinking Economics and Managing Cultural (recording here)

- Kate Raworth, Oxford University: Downscaling the Doughnut: From Neighborhood to Nation (recording here)

- Joe Henrich, Harvard University: Culturally Coevolving Minds and Institutions  (recording here)


14.30 Close


09.30 Chair for day: William Hynes, New Approaches to Economic Challenges, OECD

09.45 Opening Remarks: Andy Haldane, Chief Economist and Executive Director, Bank of England: Pushing the Frontiers of Policy and Research (recording here)

10.15 Break

10.30 Session 3: Radical Uncertainty and the problems of Knowledge and Coordination in Macroeconomics. How do we know what’s going on and what to do about it? (recording here)

Chair: Arthur Grimes, former Chief Economist and Board Chair, Reserve Bank of New Zealand

- David Tuckett, Director of Centre for the Study of Decision-Making at UCL

- Diane Coyle, Director of Bennet Institute, Cambridge University

- Paul Collier, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University

12.00 Break

14.00 Session 4: What might dis-equilibrium economics look like?

What would an alternative to equilibrium economics analysis look like, or do we need a different definition of equilibrium?

(recording here)

Chair: Ben Moll, London School of Economics

- Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, Chair of CFM and French Academy of Sciences: Disequilibrium and turbulence in economic networks

- Leigh Tesfatsion,Iowa State University:  Macroeconomies as Locally Constructive Sequential Games

- Doyne Farmer, INET/Oxford University: Non-equilibrium Models, Market Ecology and Real-World Economics

15.30 Session 5: Causes and Cures for Instability

Are we sure that macroeconomies have self-stabilizing structures – and, if not, what does this imply for policy making?

(recording here)

Chair: Carola Binder: Haverford College

- Nick Chater, Warwick University: Macroeconomic Implications of the Sampling Brain

- Robert MacKay, Warwick University: But Why are Economies Stable?

- Roger Farmer, Warwick University: The Importance of Beliefs in Shaping Macroeconomic Outcomes

17.15 Close


09.15 Chair for day: Carolina Alves, Joan Robinson Fellow, Girton College, Cambridge

09.30 Opening Remarks, Sam Beckett, Co-Head Government Economic Service and Second Permanent Secretary to the ONS, “Data and Macroeconomics Priorities for Government Economists” (recording here)

10.15 Break

10.30 Session 6: Cultures of Expertise in UK Macroeconomics

Is there a macroeconomic orthodoxy which is perpetuated through a “culture of expertise” in which certain views, or directions of experimentation, are encouraged versus others? (recording here)

Chair: Gary Dymski, University of Leeds

- Danielle Guizzo, University of Bristol: REFraming a field? The impacts of the Research Excellence Framework on UK macroeconomics

- Beatrice Cherrier, Mandates, policymakers' worldviews, academic orthodoxy: what shapes economic expertise at the Bank of England?

- Carlo D’Ippoliti, A web of expertise: networks of UK economists and the macroeconomic debate

Response: Jagjit Chadha, Director of NIESR

12.15 Break

12:30 Further Policy Remarks, Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital, “Productivity, Value Added and the Digital Economy” (recording here)

13.15 Panel session 7: The Next Generation of Macroeconomists: We hear from the next generation, near and far, about whether macroeconomics is fit for the purpose of addressing today’s and tomorrow’s economic priorities. (recording here)

Chair: Claudius Gräbner: Netzwerk für Plurale Ökonomik, Institute of Socio-Economics of the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany) and the Institute of Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy (ICAE)

- Abdoulaye Ndiaye, Stern School, New York University and Virtual Macro Seminars (VMACS)

- Daniel Obst, Exploring Economics, Network for Pluralist Economics and University of Duisburg-Essen

- Felicia Odamtten, Government Economic Service

- Cecilia Rikap, INET YSI, CONICET and Université de Paris


14.45 Session 8: Shaping the Future: Rebuilding Macroeconomics: The Road Map

- Conversation on Rebuilding Macroeconomics with Martin Sandbu (Financial Times) and Angus Armstrong (recording here)

Q & A


16.00 Close


Day 1: The Nature of Economic Reality
Chair for day: Angus Armstrong,    Director of Rebuilding Macroeconomics
Opening Remarks: Rt Hon Jesse Norman MP    “What are the Macroeconomic Questions Today and Tomorrow?” 
Day 2: Methods of Analysis
Opening Remarks: Andy Haldane (BoE)   Pushing the Frontiers of Policy and Research 
Day 3: Cultures of Expertise in Macro
Opening Remarks: Sam Beckett (Government Economic Service ONS): Data and Macroeconomics Priorities for Government Economists” 


The aim of the ESRC’s Rebuilding Macroeconomics network is to transform macroeconomics back into a policy relevant social science. Our strategy has been to support interdisciplinary analysis and new research methods to enhance the understanding of our macroeconomic system. This conference explores some of the ideas that are emerging from our research and workshop discussions.


Over the last twelve years, we have had at least three major economic crises: the global financial crisis; the rise of nationalism / protectionism; and the economic impact of COVID. Each one cascades from a small corner of the world with huge social consequences. Each one caught us unprepared.

Is it reasonable to expect to do any better in future? A popular refrain in economics is that crises are by definition unexpected and therefore cannot be avoided. This is reminiscent of Voltaire’s solace after the devastation of the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. He was challenged by his protégé Jean Jacques Rousseau who gave us the first ‘social science’ response to a disaster arguing that most of the loss was in fact the consequence of our own design. Today, the spread of COVID is arguably more due to our living conditions than the pathogen itself. Crises are unexpected if they fall outside of our modes of thinking. Anyone who watches Bill Gates’s Ted Talk in 2015 about a coming pandemic will agree that it looks extraordinarily prescient. But a call to action cannot be heard, no matter how powerful the voice, if the reasoning lies beyond our collective imagination.

Aim of conference

The aim of this conference is to challenge conventional modes of thinking in macroeconomics in the spirit of Rousseau. We start with social reality. Human beings are profoundly social animals engaging in almost non-stop interactions with those nearest to them to create shared customs and culture. Interaction between the social groups leads to adaptation, and the accumulation of knowledge and technology over generations. This takes us from a world of equilibrium, to a world of invention and intrinsic fundamental uncertainty: where the system is self-organising, but not necessarily self-stabilizing.

We have designed the programme to start each day from our most thoughtful policy makers to hear what they see as the most pressing questions for macroeconomists to consider.

Day 1: will explore the nature of our macroeconomic system. As social animals we interact in a changing, but structurally organized system, which raises the question of the appropriate level of analysis. Successful economic systems continually adapt, restructure and reinvent themselves meaning it is not obvious that we are either in, let alone heading for, a steady state.

Day 2: we explore how we might analyze this system. Adaptation and reinvention mean we face fundamental uncertainty which calls for a different approach to decision making. Our economic structures may be more fragile than an equilibrium system might suggest. Finally, is there a coherent alternative to our exclusively equilibrium framework of analysis?

Day 3: looks at the ‘culture of expertise’ in UK macroeconomics. We ask how ideas migrate from lecture theatre to policy circles, which networks really count and whether there any unintended disincentives to innovation in macroeconomics. We hear from the next generation of macroeconomists.


If you would like to join us, please contact for login credentials.






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Claudius Gräbner

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Martin Sandbu

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