This post was written by Colm Harmon
Readers of this blog might recall my support for the establishment of something modelled on the UK Government Economic Service. I was sad to hear of the passing last week of a great Irish economist though perhaps one of the least known – Norman Glass – who was in many ways one of the architects of the GES.
The Guardian obituary is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/29/obituary-norman-glass
Norman was a pioneer in economics within policy circles. He was the first economist in the UK Department of Health for example in the early 1970s. But it was his time at the Treasury where he really made his impact, becoming in effect the Chief Microeconomist and the driver of the microeconomic revival at the Treasury during the early days of Blair and Brown particularly in the aftermath of the Bank of England independence move. The development of the working families tax credit, the innovations in linking labour supply policy and welfare strategies, major initiatives in education and health – Norman was central to all of these moves and to the early success of the ‘New Labour’ era. Norman also developed an interest in the early skills formation agenda, designing SureStart (and later became a vocal critic of what the UK Government did with that programme in letting it become bloated and without direction). On retirement from the Treasury he went on to lead NatCen, perhaps the largest and best social research company in Europe.
Norman was a complete gentleman, quietly interested in what went on in Irish economics, hugely supportive of students and researchers who made contact with him. He is also perhaps amongst the most influential Irishmen of the late 20th century, albeit also one of the most modest and ‘backroom’, completely anonymous in his homeland.
I thought it might be interesting to readers to learn about Norman, but in passing I can’t help but think that as we face up to the consequences of terrible decisionmaking in economic policy over the past 15 years or so, and how little evidence there is of clever thinking in economics within the Irish civil service, one of the most important figures in policy decision making and in creating the infrastructure for economics in Government in the UK system, was an Irish economist. Knowing Norman, I suspect he would have found that funny too!