Samuel Brittan: The most influential economic journalist of his generation
I must start by declaring an interest. Samuel Brittan joined the editorial staff of the Financial Times in 1955, straight after taking a brilliant first in economics at Cambridge. I joined it the following year, 1956, after doing National Service with the Royal Navy. (I had previously read PPE at Oxford, where my special subject was not economics but philosophy.) We became friends then, and have remained so, well over half a century later.
Samuel was to become the leading, and arguably most influential, economic journalist of his generation, almost all the time with the Financial Times. This was a more important role than might otherwise have been the case, since academic economics (particularly in the UK) has gradually morphed into a dismal branch of applied mathematics, of little if any relevance to the real world and to the difficult economic decisions that have to be taken.
That is not to say that it has had no influence on events. Hired academic economists and their mathematical models undoubtedly played a part in persuading bankers that the inordinate risks they were taking during the years leading up to the 2008 banking meltdown were perfectly manageable and quantifiable, so they clearly made a contribution to the mess we are all now in. But, that aside, it has increasingly been serious economic journalists, of whom Samuel Brittan is the doyen, who have significantly shaped the economic debate.
I, for my part, after a few years as an economic journalist, and a few more as Editor of the Spectator, left the critics' bench and got out on the field to play. But there was a brief period, while I was still a journalist, when it was Samuel who decided to don his playing shorts — if a Whitehall existence can be so described. This book is his diary of those 15 months, from the beginning of November 1964, when, following the victory of Labour led by Harold Wilson in the general election of the previous month (after 13 years of Conservative rule), he joined the newly created Department of Economic Affairs as a temporary civil servant (to be precise, as Assistant to the Chief Information Officer), until the end of January 1966 when he left it.