January 2015 newsletter – Kathy Crocker retires

Kathy Crocker, University of York, has retired after working for the Royal Economic Society for 34 years, firstly in the Editorial office of the Economic Journal and then as Membership Secretary of the Society. Here she recalls some people and events during this time.

Early days at the EJ
I started work in the Economic Journal office at the University of York in September 1980. My first job was unpacking the editorial files which had been sent from Nuffield College, Oxford by John Flemming’s editorial team. This was pre-computer days when all the records were on index cards and a daily diary kept for receipt of papers and reports regarding the 300-400 manuscripts received each year. The Editors in York were Charles Feinstein and John Hutton and their term of office lasted from 1980 to 1986. My original contract was for two years rolling forward a further two years if I showed an aptitude for the job! The papers from Oxford dated back to the 1950s and are now housed in the Royal Economic Society archive at the London School of Economics. At this time the Journal was published four times a year. Previously I had worked for an industrial company in Bristol but from the moment I started at the University I knew I liked the work and people.

In my experience all new editors want to make changes. Over the years editors and other officers of the Society have transformed the organisation and publications of the Society for the better. Charles and John wanted the Society and Economic Journal to share a joint platform and in 1983 sponsored the publication of the Association of University Teachers of Economics conference proceedings. The event later evolved into the Royal Economic Society conference. The publication of the best papers, started by Charles and John, became the annual volume of Society Conference Papers published in March each year. Both Editors saw the value of an event where the Journal would be actively involved in the promotion of new economic research. In the early 1980s there had been an annual Society lecture in London but the audience had not been large. Now the Society organises a conference which attracts hundreds of economists from all over the world and in 1998 Mike Wickens (Co-ordinating Editor from 1996-2004) introduced the first Economic Lecture to the Conference programme. This demonstrates how the Society and the Economic Journal have evolved together over the years.

The Society’s Membership Secretary
In 1984 I became Membership Secretary of the Society after Margaret Bell had done the job for a long time. Again I inherited a card index system for members, this time dating back to the 1940s and printed lists dating back to 1895. At the time, Cambridge University Press published the Economic Journal and they agreed to manage the Society membership fees. This meant my job did not involve banking but I began to do the Society publicity and answer members’ queries. In the early 1980s there were about 2,000 annual members and 1,000 life members. Life membership was offered for a period in the 1960-70s for the one-off payment of about £75. Then the scheme stopped. I am still waiting for an economist to evaluate the impact of the scheme. Today there are about 250 life members in the Society.

The first Royal Economic Society Prize was awarded in 1985 for the best monograph submitted by any member of the Society under the age of 30 years old. The winner of the prize was John L Wriglesworth and the monograph, Libertarian Conflicts in Social Choice, was published by Cambridge University Press. John also received £250. The biennial prize was then changed in 1990-91 and awarded to the author(s) of the best unsolicited article published in the Economic Journal. The first article prize of £1000 was awarded to O P Attanasio and G Weber for their paper, ‘Intertemporal Substitution, Risk Aversion and the Euler Equation for Consumption’. The Society now awards three prizes each year and has kept the tradition of recognising the contributions made by younger academics with the award of the Sir Austin Robinson prize and the Denis Sargan prize to authors who are within five years of completing their PhDs.

The Hey-Hahn era
In 1986 John Hey was appointed Managing Editor of the Economic Journal and Frank Hahn became President of  the Society. This started a period of major changes. Firstly, the Journal moved to Basil Blackwell publishers and this relationship continues to date although Wiley have recently taken over the Blackwell operation. Secondly, Frank Hahn introduced a voting system for members to elect the Officers of the Society. Frank was an energetic force, passionate about the Society and the changes he made are still with us today. During John Hey’s term of office, he introduced new sections to the Economic Journal: ‘Policy Forum’, edited by David Greenaway; ‘Surveys’, edited by Andrew Oswald; ‘Controversies’, edited by Huw Dixon; ‘Software reviews’, edited by Peter Dolton and ‘Obituaries’, edited by Geoff Harcourt. John Hey writes in his Editor’s Report in 1996 that he introduced the Policy Forum as ‘an almost direct consequence of Sir Austin Robinson’s concern about the way that the Economic Journal had been going over the years’. In 1990-91 David Greenaway became Editor of the Society Newsletter team, joining Margaret Henderson and later Thelma Liesner. He expanded the format of the Newsletter to include topical articles. Thelma succeeded David as Editor in 1995. This quarterly publication is still published today, under the editorship of Peter Howells since 1998. You are reading it now.

1990 was the Centenary Year for the Royal Economic Society and the 100th volume of the Economic Journal. This was visibly celebrated with the resurrection of the ‘bee motif’ on the front cover of the journal which was printed in gold. The bee had appeared on the cover of the early issues of the journal in the nineteenth century but sometime in the following hundred years had been dropped. Donald Winch, Publications Secretary of the Society, compiled a Special Issue of the Journal, reflecting on the hundred years of journal publication. The Society also joined with the Econometrics Society and published a joint register of members in 1990.

Adapting to the new technology
In 1991 the Journal administration moved to computer records and reporting. The days of index cards and manual reporting systems were over. The Journal pioneered a software package developed by Blackwell Scientific for their medical journals such as the Lancet. The Journal also changed to 6 issues a year. The first issue of the year was devoted to the topic of ‘The next hundred years’. Twenty-two economists were asked to contribute to this issue. We should check to see if their forecasts were accurate. I leave that to one of our members! In 1992 this special issue was published by the Society as a book, The Future of Economics.

Also in 1991 the ‘bee’ was incorporated on the front cover of the Journal in almost the same design as it had appeared a hundred years earlier. Each new editorial team considered changing the Economic Journal design but after much consideration the cover remains almost the same.

In 1996 Mike Wickens was appointed Co-ordinating Editor of the Economic Journal. The Journalbegan another transformation and Mike worked with a team of joint managing editors, Tim Besley, Christopher Bliss, Costas Meghir, David De Meza, Gerard van den Berg and Steve Machin. Together they decided to publish eight issues a year, divided into three sections: articles, features and conference papers. This began in 1999 and during these years submissions increased to 450-500 manuscripts each year.

In 2004 the Journal office moved to London but my work with the Society as part-time Membership Secretary continued in York. Throughout this period, 1984-2004, I worked with some wonderful people who assisted in the journal office — Mary Brooks, Paula Cook, Caroline Dearden, Mysia Kocs, Elizabeth Johnson and Annette Johnson. At the end of the 24 years we had a celebration in York and current and past Editors and staff joined me to wish a farewell to the Editorial office. We packed up the files and sent them to London.

Work for me in the twenty-first century has been related to the online world and website. I have been part of four development teams re-designing the website, starting in 1997 and continuing to date. In 1992 David Hendry was elected President of the Society. He campaigned for an online Journal and eventually in 1998 the Society launched the Econometrics Journal publishing accepted papers on the website and collating them every six months into a printed version. From these early beginnings the Society now has an extensive website resource and in 2011 offered online-only membership for the first time.

On reflection…
It has been a privilege to work for an organisation with such a prestigious history. I have worked with three Secretaries-General, 13 Presidents, and 22 Editors during my 34 years with the Society. I have had the thrill of working with archive material dating back to 1890 and witnessed huge organisational changes moving into the digital age of online communications. I have met many members at Society events and I am encouraged to see how many younger members join the Society now. But, of course, as I get older everyone looks young. And as I finish this piece, I am packing up the files to be sent to the Society archive. I feel very fortunate to have worked for the Society and I wish all those that follow the best of luck.