Andrew Glyn: Leading left-wing economist devoted to the study of inequality

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Andrew John Glyn, economist: born Tetsworth, Oxfordshire 30 June 1943; Economic Assistant, HM Treasury 1964-66; Fellow and Tutor in Economics, Corpus Christi College, Oxford 1969-2007, Tutor for Graduates 1979-85, 1995-96, Senior Tutor 1986-88; University Lecturer in Economics, Oxford University 1969-2007; Chair, Economics Sub-Faculty 1993-94, 1996-97; married 1965 Celia Laws (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1986), 1986 Wendy Carlin (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 22 December 2007.

Andrew Glyn was one of the world's leading left-wing economists and was widely admired for his outstanding research on modern capitalist economies. He was a passionate believer in equality and devoted much of his life to the study of inequality and its causes. His last published work was the masterpiece Capitalism Unleashed (2006), one of the best books available on globalisation.

Glyn was born in 1943 into the Glyn Mills banking family; his father was John Glyn, the sixth Baron Wolverton. He was amused by the fact that his family was mentioned by name in Marx's Capital. For those who knew him, it was difficult to believe that he came from such an exalted background. He lived modestly and his manner was simple and direct. This may sound boring, but in fact he had a great zest for life. He loved jazz and in his later years took up the piano. He also retained his youthful enthusiasm for cricket, a game he had mastered as a member of the Eton first XI.

After Eton, he went to Oxford University (studying PPE at New College) where, following a brief spell at the Treasury, he remained as an academic for most of his life as a University Lecturer in Economics and Fellow at Corpus Christi College for 38 years. Glyn was a brilliant and selfless teacher who was renowned for the quality of his tutorials and lectures. He was sought out by many students who went on to illustrious careers, including two present cabinet ministers, David and Ed Miliband. With the former he edited a volume of essays, Paying For Inequality: the economic cost of social injustice (1994).

Glyn was married to an economist, Wendy Carlin, and they wrote together on international economics. His first published work was British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze, written with Bob Sutcliffe in 1972. Using a theoretical framework developed by the Polish Marxist Mikhail Kalecki, the authors argued convincingly that British firms were in trouble because their profits were being squeezed between pressure from militant workers at home and the external pressure of foreign competition. This book was influential well beyond left-wing circles and its arguments soon found their way into the academic mainstream.

In retrospect, it is striking how much of Glyn's intellectual development was foreshadowed by his early work with Bob Sutcliffe. Most of his subsequent work was concerned with three issues that were central to this book: business profits, the labour market, and globalisation. They were also the focus of his recent volume Capitalism Unleashed, and of his final draft paper on the functional distribution of income.

Like many of his left-wing contemporaries, Glyn was steeped in Marxism, and he continued to teach classical economics, including Marx, long after it had become unfashionable. His later work was profoundly influenced by his early contact with Marxism, for example his belief in profits as the motor of capitalist development and in the revolutionary nature of capitalism as a global system. In the course of time he become more appreciative of the benefits that capitalism has brought, but he remained convinced that left to its own devices capitalism will generate unacceptable inequalities.

Initially, his concern had been with inequalities between the grand social aggregates (employers and workers, capital and labour), but following the industrial crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, he became increasingly concerned with inequalities within the working class. During this period millions of workers lost their jobs, but many others prospered. Although the industrial crisis was international, the nature of its impact varied widely. In some countries, including Britain, the crisis was deeper and its full brunt was born by a minority of the population, whereas in others the crisis was less severe and the costs were also widely shared throughout the community. Such differences were analysed by Glyn in a 1990 joint paper (with me), "The Diversity of Unemployment Experience since 1973", for the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research in Helsinki.

The theme of inequality is explored in a number of subsequent papers. Among other things, they document how the scars of Britain's industrial crisis still remain and how we have witnessed the appearance of an American-style underclass. They put a question mark over the complacent belief that Britain is a shining example for our EU partners to imitate.

A striking feature of Glyn's work is the limited use of mathematics and sophisticated econometrics. This was largely a matter of deliberate choice. Glyn would normally read and cite whatever technical material was relevant to his current topic; and where necessary he would employ advanced econometric techniques. However, he was against the use of technique for its own sake and where possible he preferred to expend his energies in a more useful direction. He had a great belief in the power of words and of descriptive statistics. A paper of his might contain the odd formula or regression, but the exposition would be mostly verbal, supplemented by graphs and tables.

This was occasionally a drawback, but for the most part it was an advantage. It allowed him to tackle grand themes from which many academic economists shrink and it made his work accessible to a wide audience. These advantages are clearly visible in Capitalism Unleashed. With brevity and simplicity, it documents and analyses the great transformation that is now underway in the world economy. It is a fitting testament to a fine economist.

Bob Rowthorn