Review of Two Lectures by IHS-IWM Joint Fellow Robert Skidelsky

In June 2019, Lord Robert Skidelsky spent four weeks in Vienna IHS-IWM Joint Fellow, giving two audience-grabbing lectures at IHS.

On Wednesday, 12 June, Skidelsky spoke on “Technology and Utopia”. In contemporary discussions about the future of artificial intelligence there often is a irreconcilable difference between the assessment of economists, who offer bleak predictions of mass job losses and a deepening of already widespread precarity, and Silicon Valley utopians, who insist that new technologies are bringing us ever closer together and will one day deliver us from work, disease and poverty. Aiming at identifying the links between techno-utopians and economists, Skidelsky argued for a human-centered approach towards Artificial Intelligence, to overcome those differences. The session was chaired by Robert Braun.

On Thursday, 13 June, Skidelsky gave a talk with the provocative title “What is wrong with economics?”, based on his upcoming book on the topic. The lecture was part of the research platform “Social Science History”. According to Skidelsky, large parts of economics today have not factored in power relations in society, markets, and economic relations. He pleaded for a more problem-centered way of conducting economics, one that does not automatically imply the need for mathematics, and one that takes institutions into account. As such, he joined the rising chorus that calls for more pluralism within economics and appeals for a discipline that is sensitive to both the subtleties of human behavior and the contingency of its own methods. The discussion was intense and fair, as some in the audience argued for a more positive assessment of contemporary economics.

Lord Robert Skidelsky is an emeritus professor of political economy at Warwick University, he was made a member of the House of Lords in 1991, and is a fellow of the British Academy. Lord Skidelsky is best known for his three-volume biography of the eminent British economist John Maynard Keynes. His most recent publications include the book “Money and Government” (2018).