It was good to be at the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s lunch yesterday to see former chancellor Denis Healey, and economist John Kay receive honorary fellowships.
Healey, now 92, garnered a round of applause for making it up the two steps to the stage to receive his award, though the old man of the Treasury quite rightly milked it. He thanked the institute for his “grub”, suggested he was sloshed, and then offered sincere thanks for the recognition given that nobody likes to be taxed, so chancellors are never popular.
The highest praise for Healey came privately from a former chairman of the Inland Revenue Sir Anthony Battishill who confided in an aside at our table that Healey was the “most complete” human being he had ever worked with, and he had worked many a chancellor in the past. Whatever, you might say about Healey’s time in charge at the Treasury, and it was he who had to go to the IMF for aid, there can be no doubting his credentials as a man after praise like that.
Economics buffs among you will know John Kay very well. His offering during a gracious acceptance speech was a variation on the old story about two economists being chased by a bear in the woods. In the first version one of the economists dons trainers while the other tells him not to be stupid he’ll “never outrun the bear”. The economist with the running shoes replies by saying he doesn’t have to outrun the bear, he only has to outrun the other economist.
However, the new version is perhaps more fitting for these times.
This time, on the approach of the bear, the first economist takes out his laptop and begins running through some complex calculations. The second asks what he’s doing. The first says he’s modelling the optimum behaviour for this situation. The second is astonished and insists there’s no time for it. To which the first says: “Don’t worry. The bear has to do it too.”