Kay is one of Britain’s leading economists. He is a distinguished academic,
a successful businessman, an adviser to companies and governments around the
world, and an acclaimed columnist. His work has been mostly concerned with
the application of economics to the analysis of changes in industrial
structure and the competitive advantage of individual firms. His interests
encompass both business strategy and public policy. Today he is probably
most widely known for his weekly column in the Financial Times, which ranges
over topical issues in economics, finance and business. A guide to his
recent writing can be found on his website
He was born and educated in
Scotland, at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and at Edinburgh University
before going to Nuffield College, Oxford, as a graduate student. He is a
Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has
been awarded an honorary D.Litt by Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
He began his academic career
when he was elected a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford at the age of 21,
a position which he still holds. As research director and director of the
Institute for Fiscal Studies he established it as one of Britain’s most
respected think tanks. Since then he has been a professor at the London
Business School and the University of Oxford, and is currently a visiting
Professor at the London School of Economics. He was the first director of
Oxford University’s Said Business School.
In 1986 he founded London
Economics, a consulting business, of which he was executive chairman until
1996. During this period it grew into Britain’s largest independent economic
consultancy. He has been a director of Halifax plc and remains a director of
several investment companies. Now his time is principally devoted to
He is a frequent writer,
lecturer and broadcaster. Two collections of his writings have been
published, Everlasting Light Bulbs in 2004, and The Hare & the Tortoise in
2006. He is the author of Foundations of Corporate Success (1993), and The
Business of Economics (1996). The Truth about Markets (2003) is a balanced
assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of market organisation and of the
role of financial markets in it. (A US version, Culture and Prosperity,
appeared in 2004).
The Long and the Short of It,
published in January 2009, is an explanation of how the financial system
operates, a critique of its provision for personal investors, a guide to the
elements of financial economics, and a survival manual for individuals
bereft of advice they can, or should, trust. The Long and the Short of It
illustrates some of the ways in which mistaken concepts of rationality
distort decisions in finance, business and politics.
This theme was developed in
his latest book Obliquity, published in March 2010 in Europe and will be
published in the US in the spring of 2011 and in translations in eleven
other languages. Obliquity is the idea that complex goals are rarely best
achieved when pursued directly: the happiest people are not those who pursue
happiness, the wealthiest people are not the most materialistic, the most
profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented. The book explores the
way in which bogus notions of rationality are used in modern politics,
business and finance to justify decisions which are made and necessarily
made in different ways.
In July 2011 Vince Cable,
Secretary to State for Business Innovation and Skills in the UK government,
asked him to lead a review of equity markets and long term decision making.
The review, which has an advisory board with representatives of business,
asset management, and the beneficiaries of equity investment, is
supported by a team from the department. The review will produce an interim
report in February 2012 and a final report in July 2012.
He commutes between London,
Oxfordshire and the south of France, and his favourite recreation is walking
in the mountains behind the French Riviera, an opportunity for reflection
which provides many of his best ideas.
John Kay: my philosophy (pdf)