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The Reith Lectures: Brain Food Vol. 1

The 2012 Reith Lectures are presented by the economic historian Prof Niall Ferguson. Here's some links to further reading on some of Prof Ferguson's references, as well as links to other BBC programmes exploring some of the issues raised in Prof Ferguson's first lecture, The Human Hive.


  1. "Nature is a thynge of great myghte and efficacye, but surely institution or bringynge up, is moche myghtier."

    Prof Ferguson opened his lecture quoting Richard Taverner - best known for his translation of the Bible, he was a writer who played a significant role in the English Reformation. 
  2. Early in the lecture Prof Ferguson explores why it is some countries succeed and others fail - or remain 'stationary states', as the father of modern economics Adam Smith put it, where population growth and capital accumulation are zero.

    Niall cites the work of economists Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson, whose recent book 'Why Nations Fail' explores the issue of financial malaise. Here's a feature they recent had published in Foreign Policy magazine:

  3. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu was recently interviewed on Business Daily on the BBC World Service, too.
  4. Niall Ferguson also gave a nod to the development economist Paul Collier - he recently featured in an edition of Radio 4's Analysis, which asked whether a more open immigration policy might be a better way for the UK to help developing countries.
  5. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto also got a few mentions in the lecture - his work addresses the informal economy and the importance of business and property rights. Back in 2010, Radio 4's Crossing Continents asked whether his ideas could 'save' Peru.
  6. The Glorious Revolution ultimately established supremacy of parliament over the British monarchy - and is a key event in the case put forward in Niall Ferguson's lecture. Here's a quick lesson from BBC History: 
  7. Niall Ferguson's first lecture is titled The Human Hive - inspired by the poem The Fable of the Bees by 18th Century satirist Bernard Mandeville. The poem suggests many key principles of economic though - read it here:

  8. Out of control government debt is a key issue discussed in the lecture. The IMF predicts by the end of 2012 Greece's gross govt debt as % of GDP will be 153%; Italy 123%; USA 107%; UK 88%; Germany 79% and China 22%. The IMF estimates Japan’s gross government debt will be 236% of GDP by the end of the year, triple what is was 20 years ago. You can find out more in the IMF's World Economic Outlook report:
  9. BBC correspondent Allan Little's award-winning series Europe's Choice charts the key moments and issues that brought the EU to its current crisis.
  10. "Now often these debts get discussed as if they themselves are the problem," says Prof Ferguson, "and the result is a rather sterile argument between proponents of ‘austerity’ and ‘stimulus’".

    Have a listen to Radio 4's Keynes vs Hayek debate, and see if you think it's dull, or not - chaired by Newsnight's Paul Mason, the panel features Lord Robert Skidelsky and Prof George Selgin.