The Women Who Made Modern Economics by Rachel Reeves - review by Frances Cairncross

Frances Cairncross

Balancing the Books

The Women Who Made Modern Economics


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As the person who is currently most likely to be the first female Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves has had a seriously good idea. She has written a book about the contributions that women have made to economics. She has worked into it enough references to theory and practice to convince doubters that she is both clever and experienced, knowledgeable about economics and how economic ideas have evolved.

Her own career drives home her claims. After she did economics at Oxford, she joined the Bank of England, which her tutor described as a ‘finishing school for economists’, and then spent twenty years working as an economist. She was with HBOS at the time of the financial crisis of 2007–8, ‘a terrible time … the causes were multiple but, as with all the banks that collapsed in the UK – Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and the Royal Bank of Scotland – the Chair and the CEO were men’. The financial crisis persuaded her of ‘the need for more mixed economies that are less reliant on a small number of sectors; the importance of strong regulation of retail banks … and the value of diverse leadership teams’. Moreover, she points out, ‘We’ve had three women prime ministers. But never a woman Governor of the Bank of England. We’ve never had a woman as Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor as the Permanent Secretary at the British Treasury.’ This book is a bid to show that she has the depth of understanding of the history and practice of economic policy to fill the third of these jobs and – who knows? – maybe one day the first.

In building a career based on economics, she is still rather unusual. Economics is a subject that attracts many more male students than female ones. Reeves points out that one in four boys at private school but only one in twenty-five girls at state schools study A-level economics. Perhaps this

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