Better Known
Better Known
Oct 2, 2022
Anton Muscatelli

Economist Anton Muscatelli discusses with Ivan six things which should be better known.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli has been Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow since 2009. An economist, his research interests are monetary economics, central bank independence, fiscal policy, international finance and macroeconomics.

Sir Anton was Chair (2016-21) of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe, a non-political group providing expert advice to Scottish ministers on Scotland’s relationship with the EU. He was a member of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers 2015-21, and subsequently advised them on the National Strategy for Economic Transformation. He is a member of the advisory group for Sir Paul Nurse’s Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation Organisational Landscape. From 2017-20 he was Chair of the Russell Group of UK research-intensive universities. He has been a special adviser to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on fiscal and monetary policy, and he has advised the European Commission and the World Bank. He holds an honorary degree from McGill University in Canada.

Below are some of Anton’s recent articles:

Unless we reboot productivity, UK faces troubling questions:

Fusion has power to solve energy trilemma:

Breaking the shackles of underperformance in Scotland:

The Economics of the race to net-zero: a marathon not a sprint:

1. The life of James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith was the first African-American in history to hold a medical degree, which he gained at the University of Glasgow in 1837, following a bachelor’s degree in 1835. He was born into slavery and set free in 1827 at the age of 14 in Manhattan.

The University of Glasgow named the first of its new buildings in its recent campus expansion after McCune Smith, in recognition of the importance of diversity in its long history, and the power of education to inspire and create opportunities for all regardless of their background:

2. The importance of central bank independence (paywall)

As the world economy again struggles with an upsurge in inflation, central banks are under fire, especially those in the advanced economies which have been blamed by politicians for not doing enough to combat inflation in the wake of the Covid recovery and the war in Ukraine. In the UK the Bank of England has come particularly under fire:

The danger is that in holding central banks to account for their handling of monetary policy, especially as countries take on more debt to fund the energy crisis on top of the Covid crisis, the gains we have made in creating credible monetary policy institutions since in the 1990s is undermined. The arguments for central bank independence and non-interference by politicians are strong ( ), but it will be interesting to see if we are entering a new era in which elected politicians will once again want to take control of the reins of monetary policy as well as controlling taxes and spending.

3. Cooking with fresh (Apulian) artichokes

With the globalisation of food, artichokes have become commonplace in our shopping baskets. The most usual form is preserved artichoke hearts (chargrilled, in oil etc) bought from your favourite supermarket. Occasionally in British restaurants and influenced by Roman cuisine you will see deep-fried artichokes (Carciofi alla Giudea) or influenced by French cuisine you will see artichoke hearts served with a classic vinaigrette. However, this provides a very limited introduction to this amazing and versatile vegetable. In Puglia (Apulia) fresh artichokes are grown in abundance during winter and spring, and there is the most amazing array of dishes from baked/stuffed artichokes (Carciofi ripieni) to artichoke flans, pies, and artichokes in risottos and served fried in a light batter together with other fresh vegetables (courgettes and aubergines). Unless you have tasted cooking with fresh artichokes, you will have been exposed in a very limited way to what is one of the best cooking and healthiest vegetables around.

4. Sostiene Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi

This book is well-known in Italy, and in translation has found its way to some other countries, but is still sadly less well-known than it should be to readers in English. Set in Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship, it tells the story of a journalist whose attitude was one of not causing waves and engaging in self-censorship. He gradually awakens through his friendship with a young man, Monteiro Rossi

The book is an easy read, but highlights a number of complex themes, ranging from the importance of the freedom of the press, to the importance of speech more generally, and to the responsibility which the press and indeed writers in general have to society in telling the truth to readers. The book became popular in Italy when it was published in the 1990s because it was seen as critical of the dominance of the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the Italian media. But it is even more relevant now, with the resurgence of populism in Western politics, where the press has a crucial role in ensuring that different points of view are available to the general public.

5. The game of Maniglia/Manille

I have always had an interest in games, including card games. I originally come from a small town near Bari in southern Italy (Mola di Bari). As a child I watched my grandfather and father play a card game called Maniglia using a deck of Neapolitan cards (40 cards split into 4 suits), which was relatively unknown to anyone else, unlike many other trick-taking card games which are widely played throughout Italy (e.g. Tressette, Scopa, Briscola). It was generally played amongst men in working men’s clubs of fishermen and farmers, but the game was not known much more widely than that. It is a trick-taking game with similarities to Bridge except that it doesn’t have the bidding process. Over time I became curious as to how a game which was so hugely popular amongst the menfolk of a single small town was not known outside it and wondered about its history and how it had come to our locality. Later on, I noticed that the game bears a close resemblance to the French game of Manille, played with a 32-card French card deck, having stumbled on this as it was available as an iPhone app!

This year, I finally discovered how it might have spread to my corner of South-East Italy. On a website I found that the game of maniglia known to my grandfather and father was indeed linked to Manille, and the Spanish game of Mariglia. It appears that it spread sporadically through the Bourbon/Spanish lands into southern Italy, and that there seem to be only small areas of Southern Italy and the Islands (parts of Sardinia, areas around Gaeta near Naples, and as it happens my town in Puglia) where this game is played. For me it was an interesting example of how cultural traditions spread through geographies and persist in history, even though it’s now 160 years since the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples ended! Much as how the architecture of Puglia is a melting pot of Norman, Byzantine, Venetian, French and Spanish (including Baroque) influences, so some of our wider traditions (agriculture, food, and in this case leisure activities) are still rooted deeply in history.

6. Basilica of St Nicholas in Bari

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