From dyslexia to Downing Street: Brian Reading, 1936-2022

Bleak realist with a twinkle in his eye who campaigned for lower inequality and UK wealth tax

Brian Reading, who died on 14 December aged 86, a frequent contributor to OMFIF in recent years, was one of the most brilliantly incisive post-war writers on British and international economic and monetary affairs.

In his OMFIF columns – ‘Global Reading’ – he lambasted governmental myopia, warned of coming stagflation, groaned at growing inequality in British society and campaigned for fairer taxation including a wealth tax.

Reading backed Britain’s move to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, saying the UK would profit from a lower pound. ‘Remainers say a Leave victory will be apocalyptic. Brexiteers claim a positive scenario. Nobody sees that the prospects are dire whichever way the vote goes.’

Reading, a long-time member of the OMFIF advisory board, could be excoriating about people he otherwise agreed with. In May 2020 he wrote of Boris Johnson, then prime minister, and his notorious adviser Dominic Cummins, ‘Johnson and Cummings are bound together, for better – and possibly for worse. Their time together is starting to run out.’

He was bleakly realistic, too, about his early education at Scarborough College. ‘I was backward, bottom or next to bottom of every class. Today, I would be diagnosed dyslexic and probably somewhat deaf. But suddenly, from one term to the next, I found myself at the top of the class.’

Reading left Wadham College, Oxford with a first in politics, philosophy and economics. He worked at the national economic development office and the department of economic affairs after Labour’s 1964 election victory.

He went on to Downing Street as one of the first Spads, or special advisers, to Prime Minister Edward Heath. In 1972, Reading became The Economist’s first economics editor. In 1991 he helped found macroeconomic consultancy Lombard Street Research.

David Marsh, OMFIF chairman, writes:

Brian had his finger perpetually poised on the pulse of the moment. OMFIF stands in his debt for his bursts of wisdom. His arguments were always scintillatingly constructed although sometimes the spiralling spans of sinewy logic needed subediting engineering to allow readers to make the leap with him.

He was aided tremendously by his wife Tiffany, particularly in helping him weather his progressive deafness. He was unfailingly grateful and courteous to our staff who always enjoyed interactions with him. We will miss him greatly.

John Plender, former OMFIF chairman, The Economist financial editor (1974-80), writes:

The important thing about Brian was that he got so many big things right. He read the 1980s Japanese bubble perfectly and forecast the ensuing decade of stagnation in his book Japan: The Coming Collapse.

He foresaw the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98; likewise the financial crisis of 2007-09.

He was exceptionally generous with his ideas and a great lateral thinker. Even when he was wrong he was invariably more stimulating than most other economic commentators.

Until he got together with Tiffany his consumption of cigarettes and whisky was phenomenal. He was terrific fun.

Tim Congdon, founder of Lombard Street Research, writes:

Brian Reading was one of the most interesting economists of his generation. Although a Keynesian by profession, he responded to intellectual stimuli from all schools of thought, and wrote with brilliant clarity and much wit. He was superb when propounding important generalisations in short and pithy phrases. As colleagues at Lombard Street Research, we often disagreed, but we understood that to be part of our contribution to the public debate, and our exchanges were often a lot of fun.

Lord Norman Lamont, former chancellor of the exchequer, writes:

Brian had an outstandingly lucid and original mind. He wasn’t afraid to go where logic led. He distanced himself from the thinking of Ted Heath with whom he worked very closely. In his latter years his  views were almost the polar opposite of Heath’s. It was good OMFIF could take advantage of his talents to our great benefit.

Mark Burgess, OMFIF board member, former managing director of Australia’s Future Fund, writes:

Brian was a very good friend of and widely followed by some of the best institutional investors in Australia – both for his outstanding insights (and particularly for his significant cyclical calls) but also for his outstanding writing.

I would visit him on almost every trip to London from Australia with colleagues from Bankers Trust in the early 1990s. We would call by and have rigorous debates (always in the most polite way) on global issues.

He was a truly outstanding economist, thinker and debater and a friend of investors who saw his work as having clear practical application. A rare skill in the world of economists.

Peter Allen, managing director of Lombard Street Research (2004-14), writes:

Brian was an extraordinary man – a gifted writer and accomplished public speaker, he combined brilliance with wit. With a twinkle in his eye, his ability to present to a conference seemingly off the cuff with a whisky in one hand and a fag in the other with no notes was something to behold.

A genuine maverick, generous in his support and encouragement for junior economists, he could be prickly with authority, but always appreciated support for his work. Passionate in his fight against austerity, he continued to provide unique and valuable insights toward the repair of the UK economy through his final illness to the end.

Passionate about cricket, Brian lived life to the full. He achieved an excellent innings.

Brian Reading’s OMFIF contributions:

Hammond – The Treasury’s prisoner

Markets shrug off Hammond

Austerity fails to eliminate UK deficit

A 50% chance of a crisis in 2019

A Spad with influence

The undeniable case for wealth tax

Welcome to world of stagflation

Guarding the guards: The case for UK reform

Cull of Cummings, PM sidekick who built an empire

Johnson’s biggest test is yet to come

Return of cost-push inflation may lead to stagflation

Repeat of 70s in store as UK heads towards stagflation

Year of Hobson’s choice: UK recession is inevitable

Two faces of the BoE’s inflation stance

How to introduce a radical wealth tax

Sunak’s Spring Statement neglects those most hurt by inflation

Wealth and income inequality root of cost of living crisis

Boris Johnson’s future is shaky, but Conservatives are already doomed

Tax cuts will not solve stagflation

Welcome to the world of general disequilibrium

Like the Bank of England, OBR should dare to sound alarm

Britain’s past EU membership partly to blame for cost of living crisis

Kwarteng’s growth plan: great idea in principle, calamitous in execution

Inequality is at the root of UK inflation

Brian Reading on Brexit

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