Brigitte Granville is Professor of International Economics and Economic Policy and Centre Director for the Centre for Globalisation Research at QMUL. In this interview, she shares some insights into her time with the World Bank, her career as an economist, as well as her current academic interests.
27 June 2016
Can you tell us about the work you do at the Centre for Globalisation Research?
I created the Centre for Globalisation Research in 2005. My background, before I joined the School of Business and Management in 2004, was in international organizations, think tanks, banking, policy advice, and I had also been an academic in Moscow. Professor Pedro Martins and I are Co-Directors of the Centre, and both of us have experience of policy advice. Pedro’s research interests are weighted to fields in microeconomics, while my own focus is much more on macroeconomics: so we complement each other professionally and work very well together.
In a nutshell, the Centre focuses on five main areas: international macro and monetary economics and finance, development economics, labour economics, intellectual property and behaviour, institutions and networks.
Not long after the Centre was established, Pedro had the excellent idea of starting a working paper series. We launched this in 2006, and it has been very popular. All of the working papers are made available on a site called Repec, which is quite a well-known network of economists, and the papers are very well regarded. They are all publicly available and free to access. We also have a Blog which we try to update regularly.
It is quite a lively Centre – we organise workshops, presentation and discussion groups, and the work is quite diversified and extremely rich. I am very pleased to see how it has evolved.
(You can find out more about the Centre for Globalisation Research on their website)
What are you working on at the moment?
I have worked on monetary economics and exchange rates for some time. In 2013, I published a book called Remembering Inflation (Princeton University Press): with the world economy still in the grip of deflationary trends, the timing was not great! Presently some of my work has to do with Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). I am in favour of the dismantlement of the monetary union for the good of Europe – as set out in the European Solidarity Manifesto, of which I am a signatory along with around 40 economists.
Linked to that is the research I have been doing on the political economy of France. I recently published a paper with Dominik Nagly which showed the conflicting incentives to stay inside the economic and monetary union. This article was followed by another one jointly authored with my PhD student, Sana Hussain, in which we showed that there was no convergence between the European countries in the monetary union, despite what some people said would happen when the union was set up in 1999.
I also recently finished work on a paper in collaboration with Dr Martha Prevezer and Jaume Martorell Cruz, also a PhD student. This study compares the economic effects of elite networks and mentalities in France and Germany. We were able to show that in France there is a certain rigidity, and this rigidity is due to a tight-knit ruling elite, who abuse their privileges. Unlike the previous ones, this paper had a much more institutional focus.
There is plenty more, but this gives you an idea.
Your career has been quite varied. You have worked with JP Morgan, the World Bank, the Russian European Centre for Economic Policy and the Central Bank of Uzbekistan, to name but a few. What was the most interesting place you worked at before coming to QMUL and why?
Interesting can mean so many different things, and it also depends on your age. I consider myself very lucky to have started my career in the World Bank. I was a young thing in the Bank’s Research Department, where we had the privilege of knowing luminaries like Béla Balassa and Irma Adelman. All around me were very eminent and well known Nobel Prize winning economists, and for a young 24-year-old economist it was a great opportunity.
Naturally I got to know the people I worked with, and I remained in contact with them after leaving the World Bank. When I came to QMUL in 2004 the School of Business and Management was still a very new school. Professor Adrian Smith, who was the Principal at the time, was very keen for me to get some of my friends and contacts to come to the school as guest speakers. As a result, we started something called the Globalisation Seminar Series, and we had eminent economists and Nobel Prize winners come to QMUL to give talks. This proved to be a good way of making people aware of the school.
The atmosphere at the World Bank was very different when compared to the French university system that I was used to. When I started my PhD in France I had to wait six weeks for an appointment with my supervisor’s secretary. When I arrived in the World Bank people were much more welcoming. It was a bit of a shock to me that those eminent economists would always have their door open. They would sit with me, they would talk to me and they would explain things to me. You could see that they really wanted to share what they knew.
I had a similar experience when I was a student in Sussex at the Institute of Development Studies. At the time I used to do ballet and so I was quite thin. One of my professors was worried that I wasn’t eating enough and so he would invite me to his office where he had a big box of chocolates, and we would sit there and discuss ideas.
What was most fabulous about these experiences is that I never forgot them. I feel very lucky and grateful. Now that I have my own students I try to give them that same experience. I love to spend time discussing ideas with my students. We write papers together and collaborate on projects, so it is important to build that relationship. I even have my own box of chocolates now!
Going back to the beginning of your career - what attracted you to economics in the first place?
I have to be very honest – I never envisaged that I would be an economist. I started studying medicine in France but two things stopped me. The first thing, and this is something that might have improved with the years, was that I would faint whenever I saw blood. The second thing is that at the time I was a little lazy. All of my friends were having parties while I had to stay at home learning anatomy. I knew some people in the economics department and the main focus for economic studies at the time was maths and statistics. I was ok with maths, and so I switched to economics.
When I finished my studies, all I wanted to do was to travel. I remember this one board at university and there were two grants being advertised – one for Russia and one for England. I thought Russia sounded very interesting, and so I went to the interview.
When I went into the room there was a very austere man sitting behind the desk, and on the desk was a book by Chekhov. He told me to read. I bluffed my way through the passage, but really I didn’t speak much Russian. I had studied it a little bit in the past, but I could hardly read the stuff. That interview didn’t go very well.
So I went to the second office and interviewed for the grant in England, and I got it. The grant was to study literature in Sussex, but when I arrived I very quickly met the people from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and was invited to join the programme. At the time they took 20 students every two years and those students were from relatively wealthy backgrounds – some of them were sons or daughters of politicians or members of government from around the world. I didn’t have that type of background. I was very fortunate because Professor Hans Singer with other IDS colleagues arranged for a grant from the British Council which allowed me to join the programme.
You are quite an active Twitter user- would you say that social media plays a role in allowing researchers to engage with current debates and the public? How do you use Twitter?
I like Twitter because the number of characters is very limited. I use it mainly with my network of economists. It helps me to know what the current debate is about and allows me to get informed very quickly. Of course it can be one sided because I tend to see what the people I follow are talking about – but not only, as through the search function it is easy to find out the latest information on a specific topic.
It is also a great tool for distributing academic papers. I always encourage young colleagues to use it because, even if it is an academic paper, you may be making suggestions on policy or talking about the impact of your research. It is a wonderful tool to have because although you may not have thousands of followers, some people do, and if they like one of your papers they can spread the word to their network of people. Ideas can travel far.
One of my PhD students and I were very surprised when one of our papers was picked up by the National Review in the USA. When we wrote the paper we never expected it would be picked up by them. With Twitter you can’t predict where things will end up.
(Follow Professor Granville on Twitter: @brigranville)