April 2016 newsletter – Mike Artis

Michael (‘Mike’) Artis was an outstanding economist and mentor, as I found out first hand in 1964 in my final year of Honours at the University of Adelaide. Honours was by invitation only, and Mike as teacher, Michael G. Porter (now Professor at Deakin University) and I formed the small fourth year class in Money. With Michael Porter and me taking turns week by week to prepare an essay, it might have been an intimidating experience but Mike (whom neither of us had met before) soon put us at ease. Always approachable and constructive, he was never one for sitting on formality.

How did it come about that Mike’s first teaching appointment was in Adelaide? He was born in Croydon, London in 1938 to Violet and John, and the family later moved to Blackpool. Mike shone at school, winning a place at a top local grammar school. Indeed, he was the first in his area to go to grammar school. From there, Mike gained a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford to read PPE. His tutor, Tommy Balogh, immediately took Mike under his wing.

At Magdalen, Mike was greatly influenced by David Worswick and Balogh, and on graduation they encouraged him to join the Oxford Institute of Statistics. At the Institute he began work, under Balogh’s supervision, on the book Foundations of British Monetary Policy (Basil Blackwell, 1965), which explored the Bank of England's relationship to the government, its own internal organization and its links to the financial system — themes expanded upon in his later work. This volume was, for all intent and purposes, his PhD, that being the era at Oxford when writing a book was an alternative to the American PhD system.

The Oxford Institute position led to Adelaide. Harold Lydall, Deputy Director of the Institute, was dissatisfied with the change of leadership at the Institute in 1960 and moved to Australia, initially taking a chair at the University of Western Australia and then the George Gollin Chair at the University of Adelaide. Harold head-hunted Mike and appointed him as a Lecturer in Economics at Adelaide in 1964.

Then in Adelaide, as Senior Lecturer at the newly established Flinders University, Mike began a second area of research which also stayed with him throughout his career. In collaboration with Robert Wallace, Mike prepared a study, Fiscal Policy in Postwar Australia, which was critical of the techniques then used to assess fiscal impact. They developed their own method and applied it to the experience of 1945 to 1966. Their conclusion that ‘the principles of the new economics [Keynesian functional finance] are easily mastered’ but the application ‘at the correct time and dosage is far from simple’ was a challenge to those seeking actively to use the budget as a stabilizing instrument. Mike later applied similar techniques to the British experience in a chapter written for Wilfred Beckerman (ed.), The Labour Government’'s Economic Record 1964-70(Duckworth 1972).

In 1968, Mike returned to the UK to sit on the Prices and Incomes Board, chaired by Aubrey Jones, for an enquiry into bank charges Mike’s prescient observation was that technology would change banking dramatically, and that fees and charges needed to be sorted out in order to prevent customers being disadvantaged. His time in Australia obviously left its mark, for his close and direct questioning of one of the witnesses provoked the response ‘Are you an Australian or something?’ After his time on the Board, Mike was recruited by David Worswick to work for the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and was to serve as editor of the National Institute Economic Review.

Mike was appointed to his first Chair at the age of just 34 at the University of Wales, Swansea in 1972. In 1973, I was fortunate to spend 6 months in Swansea as a visiting academic. Mike suggested that we look into the apparent instability of the demand for money functions in the UK being used for monetary policy calibration. In an article published in the Manchester School in 1976, we questioned orthodox equilibrium analysis of the demand for money, arguing that in the face of ‘disequilibrium money’, the standard equations were ‘the wrong way round’. Our collaboration continued with Monetary Control in the United Kingdom (1981) and Money in Britain (1991), as well as articles in Economica (1984) and Oxford Review of Economic Policy (1993).

In 1976 Mike took a Chair at the University of Manchester where he remained until the late 1990s. This move marked the beginnings of an outpouring of research works. Between 1976 and 2009, Mike published 44 sole or jointly authored articles in journals such as the Economic Journal, Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford Bulletin of Economic Statistics, International Journal of Forecasting, Scandinavian Journal of Economics to name a few, along with 35 additional working papers, many issued under the auspices of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, examining inflation targets, unemployment, dating business cycles and fiscal forecasting.

From Manchester, Mike was given eight years leave of absence to fill a Chair at the European University Institute in Florence, providing academic training to PhD students from all over the world, but he stayed 12 years. A beautiful place to work, the University is situated in the Badia Fiesolona which was originally the site for the cathedral of Fiesole dating from the 11th century. Morning and afternoon coffee and cake was shared with monks, many obviously not following the vow of poverty. During his time at the EUI there was no winding down, although he loved the lifestyle in the Tuscan countryside, and quickly mastered the language. From as early as 1986, Mike had been writing on European issues, and his views were sought after in British policy circles. With him ensconced as the first joint Economics Department and Pierre Werner Chair, the EUI became a centre of debate about European economics, building on a solid body of research that he inspired and was at the forefront, with publications in the Journal of Common Market StudiesInternational Journal of Finance and EconomicsEconomic Internationale, and Journal of Applied Econometrics.

In 2005, Mike returned to Manchester as Professor and Director of the Manchester Economic Centre, Institute for Political and Economic Governance. Then in 2008 he was appointed The Welsh Assembly Visiting Research Professor at Swansea University.

Sadly, Mike suffered a brain haemorrhage towards the end of 2009, and was unable to continue working. After a long illness, he died at Knutsford in January 2016, aged 77. At the EUI, Mike is revered as ‘an amazing colleague, teacher and advisor’. In the UK, his standing as an academic economist was recognised in 1988 by his election as a Fellow of the British Academy. He was awarded a Houblon-Norman/George fellowship at the Bank of England in 1989/90.

What was it that set Mike apart from others? Admittedly, he had a way with words. He was a beautiful writer and was always able to express complex ideas in a clear and interesting way, as reflected not only in his research publications, but in his textbook on Macroeconomics (Clarendon Press, 1984). Although a committed socialist, he believed in intellectual inclusiveness. As Peter Sinclair observed, he loved to gather together economists who had very different views and things to say. Unfailingly patient and tolerant, and with an understated English sense of humour, he firmly believed that debate and the exchange of views would enlighten everyone, and he never hectored or denigrated people with whom he disagreed. Mike’s strength in both theoretical and empirical analysis, his capacity to work quickly under pressure, open-mindedness on theoretical issues, were well-springs for, and hallmarks of, valuable advice to policy makers and academic colleagues alike. He is remembered with great affection.

Mervyn K Lewis
UniSA Business School
Adelaide, South Australia