The job of a chairman is a little like that of a goal keeper. You only get remembered when it goes wrong. It nearly went wrong with Kristian. The first time I remember hearing his name was on the programme of Liberty League Freedom Forum where he was chairing a debate on the role of the state in welfare provision. I saw that debate, and Kristian did a good job, so I forgot all about him. Later I grabbed a moment with Mark Littlewood, head of the IEA. I knew the IEA had been pumping out research on poverty and the cost of living and asked whether he or anyone on his team would be interested in talking in my event on the Cost of Living Crisis. The two names he mentioned were Kristian Niemietz and Christopher Snowdon, both thankfully now part of the event (and both, frankly, deserving of a full profile here) but I was particularly pleased not to have dropped the ball with Kristian. The reason: breadth.
When you stop and read Kristian’s research in detail. You’ll be surprised by the number of different industries and causes he has looked at. His recent paper, with Ryan Bourne, looked at housing supply, planning, rent control, energy privatisation, railway privatisation, food banks, childcare and child care subsidies, sin tax, benefits and incentives, the labour market and tax credits. His earlier paper – which won him his second Arthur Seldon Award for Excellence – criticised the anti-poverty lobby, the sustainability of our welfare strategy, regressive taxation, workless households, single parenthood, and the denationalisation of welfare. His work is always well sourced and detailed, with enough statistical evidence as you can hope to take in. One gets the impression that 90 minutes of just Kristian talking would be a very interesting 90 minutes, but that would deny us the opportunity to hear what the left have to say in response!
It is not just with the titles of his IEA publications that Kristian seeks to “redefine the poverty debate”, his PhD paper on the measurement of poverty rejects the relative definition of poverty that seems to make the problem insolvable. The current relative measure means that someone would be “poor” even if everyone lived in a mansion and ate caviar. From the abstract:
a relative definition [of poverty] formalises the insight that poverty is a context-specific phenomenon [that] changes with overall economic development. Yet this article argues that tagging a poverty line to mean or median incomes does not automatically anchor it in its social context. [..] A comparison with studies on ‘Subjective Well-Being’ (SWB) shows that these assumptions are rather arbitrary. At the same time, relative indicators do not take account of changes in the product market structure that disproportionately affect the poor. If low-cost substitutes for expensive items become available, the poor will be relatively more affected than median income earners. Conventional ‘absolute poverty’ indicators will be equally dismissed for not solving these problems either.
It is this work which was published by the IEA as A New Understanding of Poverty which won him the Arthur Seldon Award for Excellence and the Templeton Freedom Award.
So who is this guy? The internet is light on detail. He doesn’t even have many twitter followers (300 less than me), which is a travesty of justice. I had to ask Polish friend to confirm his name is probably German, but he also speaks Spanish and French as well. He has spent 8 months working as an intern in South America, first at the Central Bank of Bolivia and then at the General Directorate of Statistics, Surveys and Census in Paraguay. He has studied at Humboldt University in Berlin, earning a Masters in Economics and at Kings College London where he completed his PhD in political economy.
Kristian has worked as a tutor in economics at Kings while studying for his PhD and worked for the Institute for Free Enterprise for over seven years before joining the IEA in 2008. His committment to free market ideas and “decision making at the individual level” is obvious, but by interning where he did and by teaching and studying mainstream economics at reputable institutions it is clear he is familiar with the arguments of the progressive-left and he is certainly not afraid to take them on.
The job of chairman is different from that of a goal keeper: a goal keeper stops stuff getting in, my job as a chairman on Thursday will be to ensure enough gets out, that each of the interesting arguments – and counter arguments – are expressed. With this speaker it is the latter I shall have trouble with. In this role I should hope to be forgotten.
Kristian Niemietz will be speaking this Thursday at the Causes of the Cost of Living Crisis debate. Tickets are on sale from £11 (£6 concessions) for unregistered users and at £8 for registered meetup users. Newsletter subscribers will also receive a promo-code for £8 tickets.