In March 1981, 364 economists agreed to write to "The Times" arguing strongly against the then government's monetary and fiscal policy. However, the Thatcher government decided to ignore these voices and continue the pursuit of policies to defeat inflation and restore fiscal responsibility. To the opponents of the 364, this decision marked a turning point in British post-war economic history: every other post-war government had capitulated and returned to policies of reflation and direct control of prices and incomes in the face of intense political pressures when the going was tough. The 1981 Budget, which precipitated the letter, was also a turning point in other respects: from 1981 there was continual growth, falling inflation and eventually, employment growth. Arguably, the 1981 Budget set the scene for today's benign macro-economic outlook and political consensus in favour of stable prices and fiscal prudence. Amongst the 364 were many economists who play a very prominent part in public life today. Some dissent from their former views and others continue to justify them.
In this publication some of the signatories of the letter to "The Times", together with their opponents discuss the key issues raised and its relevance to economic policy today. Included is a list of the original signatories and other relevant historical material.
Philip Booth is Academic and Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St Mary's University, Twickenham. From 1 November 2016, he will be Director of Research and Public Engagement at St Mary's. Previously, he worked for the Bank of England as an advisor on financial stability issues and has been Associate Dean of Cass Business School. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. Philip has a BA in economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.