Luc Soete, a Belgian economist who worked closely with Chris Freeman at Sussex, titles his farewell lecture at Maastricht University: “The present isn’t what it used to be.”

He notes the overwhelming pace of recent change:

“It is difficult not to be struck by the speed and all-encompassing nature of the challenges that within only the past couple of years have emerged to confront us. It seems as if the temporal course of development is no longer characterized by steady, linear change, and has instead become exponential in pace and sometimes chaotic in its directions.”

It’s interesting to see the two examples he uses to illustrate this:

1. The way behavioural insights are challenging more orthodox approaches to the market economy. He puts it as follows:

“The fact that changing quantitative evidence regarding behavioural and system-wide social phenomena is continuously overturning “established” analytical conclusions and challenging comfortable underlying normative justifications for policy actions or for non-intervention in the workings of market economies.”

2. That social mobility is a fantasy – but one with a clear policy solution:

“As Rasmus Landersø and James Heckman observe: equality of opportunity appears, surprisingly in the current social media -Wikipedia world, to be a “fantasy”: it does not exist in the U.S., it does not exist in Denmark, in Limburg and it probably doesn’t exist anywhere. In other words: parents matter. That’s for the sobering side of the evidence.”

On the more positive side, the fact that as in Denmark enrolment in day care, in preschool and other early education investments have a high pay-off in the development of cognitive skills for low-income children [20], points to a rather straightforward policy answer to the present problem.”

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