Phil Thornton

Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.

Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.

He is the author of Brilliant Economics and The Great Economists.

Articles by Phil

Don’t Look Now: Britain is Not the Only Nation Facing Economic Turmoil

Anyone living in Britain could be forgiven for assuming that the only real and important economic crisis is the one facing the UK in the form of a hard Brexit. It is certainly true that this country is close to committing an historic act of economic self-harm. But other countries are facing stiff headwinds — and it is only British exceptionalism that makes the media and commentariat focus so totally on it.

British Exceptionalism Will Lead to Brexit Own Goals

As one Brussels-based British EU insider put it, it is not just in football that British disrespect for opponents lets Britain down and motivates the other team. Theresa May may finds her White Paper suffers a similar fate to the British football team - supported by those who thought defeat was impossible.

Trump, Johnson and Davis Show that Economics Finally Beats Politics on Brexit

The resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis, the Foreign and Brexit Secretaries respectively, and the imminent arrival in the UK of the American President Donald Trump might seem to be wholly unrelated political events and neither of which has anything to do with economics. The opposite, in fact, is the case.

The Elephants of Global Finance Need to Act on Fragile States

while the major geopolitical titans of the United States, China and Russia battle it out, that there are still around three dozen countries that economists call fragile. International bodies such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been working for decades to work out to help these countries turn themselves around. They have failed.

An Italy/Canada trade war is not a joke but a sign of worse to come

Italy’s unholy political alliance of the far-right nationalist Northern League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has threatened not to ratify a sweeping European Union trade deal with Canada. They are not alone in their concerns but

IMF shows we need a ghostbuster to capture $12trn of ‘phantom’ money

The IMF used its monthly magazine to flag up an astonishing $12 trillion that it has calculated multinational firms have squirrelled away into what it calls empty corporate shells. When the global watchdog with a reputation for advocating the free flow of capital starts to make noises about companies hiding money in corporate shells or tax havens, then the issue is clearly flashing reds on the authorities’ dashboards.

US tariffs throw harsh spotlight on Brexit realities

The decision by Donald Trump to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminium producers has surely exposed the brutal reality behind the claim by his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this year that UK would jump to the front of the queue for a US trade deal.

London’s Not Calling: High House Prices May Drive Firms Out of the Capital

As they move out of London, like the canary in the coalmine or the stockbroker who sold out before the Wall Street crash after getting share tips from his shoe shine, the CEOs of BT and Rolls Royce may be saying something small companies have known for some time —that having an address in London is just not worth the candle.

An economist’s powerful but flawed recipe for urgent political reform

Almost 10 years on from her controversial book on international aid, Dambisa Moyo is turning her attention to the West, which as her book’s title indicates, she fears is on the edge of chaos. She identifies six headwinds that have undermined voters' confidence in the ability of liberal, democratic market economies to deal with the challenges.

When Trump Erupts, the Economic Damage Will be Huge

Risk is back after a beguilingly calm 2017 during which economic and political risks appeared to recede by the month and market volatility fell to historically low levels as traders bet that nothing would rock the boat. Trump’s decision to pull out of the five-nation deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme has thrown the geopolitical order into disarray. The after effects will be seen by employees and investors across the world.

If the City Can See a Crisis in Housebuilding, It Must Be Serious

In an exquisite manoeuvre these came together last week when the head if one of the world’s largest investment funds decided to make a stand over the “enormous” pay-outs made to three executives of a house building firm. On first sight this might look like a lioness calling out the excessive nature of a tiger’s animal killing strategy and indeed, there is a little of the black pot and kettle about the row.

Windrush is not Just a Scandal but a Sign of Wider Economic Failure

The treatment of the Windrush generation of migrant workers is not just an appalling scandal of cruel bureaucratic indifference and political decision-making that is at best disinterested and, at worst, downright cynical discrimination. It is also a result of political positions that run contrary to economic logic as well as natural justice

IMF Must Seize the Moment to be Peacemaker as Trade War Fears Rise

the United Nations appears unable to play a meaningful role in the growing military tensions over Syria, one should perhaps have little hope that its multilateral economic sister, the International Monetary Fund, will do any better when it comes to trade wars. But as ministers and central bankers start flying into Washington DC this week for its Spring Meetings, the IMF could find itself in the right place and right time to broker a de-escalation of tensions between China and the United States.

Reckless Opportuntists: Has the British Establishment Become Self-Serving, Insecure and Incompetent?

The Establishment that was identified by Anthony Sampson 50 years ago as a male-dominated hierarchy that was intertwined with monarchy, aristocracy and the landed gentry has lost much of its influence. The problem, according to Aeron Davis, a professor of political communication at Goldsmiths University, is the new elite that has replaced them is a “generation of self-serving, insecure and less competent leaders”.

G20’s cryptic message should be a warning to Bitcoin investors

As the G20 start a debate, Bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies are about to lose the unique allure that has captivated the attention of anarchists, tax evaders, drug dealers and other people who want to circumvent capital controls and international sanctions.

Forget Unilever going Dutch – Brexit may give UK powers to protect industry

Home may be where the heart is. But for businesses there are many, more cold-blooded calculations. Lever Brothers — better known now as Unilever — has become the latest venerated British name to see control leave these shores. The giant Anglo-Dutch company has announced that Rotterdam rather than London will be the home of its new unified headquarters. it is a reminder that one way or another, the UK is losing its industrial assets.

Hail Britannia, Farewell Globe. Will the Next Political Generation Succeed Where the Present are Failing?

The irony of Brexit is that is was a reaction against some of the ills of globalisation but also a hark back to Britain as a global trading nation. Our next generation of political leaders had better have ideas to resolve voters' contradictions or they will fail, as surely as o9ur present crop are.

It’s Time to Apply a Thaw to Austerity Ahead of a Brexit Freeze

Last week snowfall saw an unprepared Britain grind to a halt. As life returns to normalcy, there is a lesson for the country that it has to prepare for a greater emergency. Instead ministers are pretending that Brexit will be easy. If there is a shock the public will be unprepared. It is up to Phil Hammond, a Cabinet realist, to ease austerity's icy grip to prevernt a Brexit freeze.

The Tories Want Divergence: Be Careful What You Wish For

More than 600 days after the EU referendum, the government’s painful efforts to draw up a coherent strategy stumble on. Theresa May convened her senior Cabinet at Chequers to hammer out a coherent government policy on Brexit. The policy they came up with was ambitious managed divergence. Now, whaty does it mean?

Follow the Money: the Unholy Trinity that Could Spell May’s Downfall

Sex may sell newspapers but scandal rarely brings down governments: money does. After decades of mismanagement Theresa May's government has been left holding the can as the public sees rising Council Tax, increased student debt and mismanaged PFI project. The price could be losing the next general election.

Will the Hunters Become the Haunted as Stock Markets Slump?

What goes up can come down and with them falls the credibility of those who claimed credit for the rises in the first place. The hunters become the haunted. Perhaps the removal of this veneer of market approval for Trump-enomics and Brexit is the silver lining to the cloud.

Economic Forecasts are Best Guesses. Don’t let Brexiters Dub Them "Fake News"

Economic forecasts have oftenm been wrong. The path of the economy since the referendum has allowed Brexiteers to kick the Treasury’s gloomy forecasts. However recent attacks on the Treasury by Jacob Rees Mogg and Stephen Baker have a whiff of an attack from a losing argument. Brexiters are playing a dangerous game.

A Brexit Civil War at Home, Davos Exposes UK’s Weakness not Strength

Theresa May clearly thought that by attending the World Economic Forum’s annual bash last week that some of the glamour would rub off on her and take away some of her robotic reputation. Instead, Britain’s interventions at the global rich person’s club has only acted to highlight our country’s diminished economic, international, and domestic standing.

Carillion is This Week’s Watershed: But When Will Anything Change?

The collapse of Carillion is a catastrophe. 20,000 jobs are now under threat, while even more are at risk at the small firms that are owed money. But this is not the only disaster of recent times. The common theme from Grenfell Tower to GS4 at the 2012 Olympics is private sector outsourcing.

The McMafia does exist: it is up to us whether we fund it

If you want elucidation on economic theory and practice you should read a book or journal; if you want entertainment you should watch TV. Given the explosion in online learning via new media outlets such as YouTube it is no surprise that that boundary is getting blurred. However, BBC One's McMafia provides a genuinely interesting and timely look at the link between organised crime and free markets.

The tide is turning against Brexit — Labour must seize the moment

Almost all Britons will have been downcast as they returned to work or education last week, and not just for the normal reasons. All those who voted for Brexit will look back at how little has been achieved towards their causes for £350m a week to the NHS, a faster growing economy, and a plethora of trade deals around the world.

Even by Brexiters’ Standards, This Hollow Claim is a New Low

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Mar on Sunday, the Brexit Secretary said that Britain would simply not pay the £40bn it had just agreed just two days earlier if it did not get an EU trade deal. Some might see this as a tough negotiating position, but it is simply patent nonsense.

The Real Trump/Brexit Shock is That Nothing has Changed

As the US Senate votes in favour of Trump's Reganesque trickle-down tax agenda and in Britain, as members of the government's Social Mobility Comission, it is remarkable how little has changed. Both votes were cries for help but nothing has been done. Worse, as Alun Milburn said it is Brexit that is stopping the government from acting.

Trump Policy Shock: He Does Something Vaguely Sensible

Observers had been braced for the worst as Trump tried to find a replacement to Fed Chair Janet Yellen. With Jay Powell the president has picked someone likely to continue the path set by Yellen and her processor Ben Bernanke. But being Trump's man might prove costly.

Damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t: Bank’s rate hike quandary

The Bank of England looks set to increase interest rates. It will be the first rise in the lending rate since July 2007. Bank Governor, Mark Carney, has been warning for months of a possible rise. Either way the decision will be controversial.

While UK examines its own entrails, China marches on

According to both the World Bank and IMF the world economy is improving - with one exception. Brexit has forced the IMF to downgrade its forecasts. Meanwhile China is stepping up to the plate and taking on more responsibilities as the world's second largest economy.

Like Cassandra, the IMF’s Warnings Will be Ignored This Week

With the publication of its World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund will be back in the news this week. Hailed as saviour of the world economy during the global financial crisis, it is again struggling to find a role. Under Christine Lagarde, the IMF has since sought to balance its role as premier economic forecaster with that of an early warning system. A Cassandra with a PhD, if you like.

Crisis in Conference: Tories cannot decide whether to tack left or right

Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson both gave robust defences of capitalism at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester - a sign of how worried they are about Jeremy Corbyn. They have four years to decide whether to tack to the centre or veer to the hard right as Labour veered left in the 80s.

Forget Boris, it’s Mark Carney who hit the Brexit nail on the head

While media attention was focused on Boris Johnson's Daily Telegraph essay, Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor laid out in cold clear detail the likely implications of Brexit. It makes for brutal but mandatory reading in these times when politicians only skim the surface.

After Brexit and Trump, will nuclear disarmament become the next improbable possible?

A combination of complacency and incompetence has shaken Western politics. Trump and Brexit were both derided. Now they are mainstream. In a volatile political world, it is no longer possible to predict events. So could nuclear disarmament be the next issue that secures an unexpected win?

It Is Economics Not Politics That Has the Power to Overturn Brexit

Brexit is hurting Briton's in their family budgets whether it is the cost of a family holiday or the weekly food shop. Remainers need to start showing how Theresa May's bad Brexit policy is hurting. If the can do that then voters might question whether this was what the voted for.

Well Done! We've Reclaimed Democracy. Now Let's Exploit the Uncertainty

The electorate did more than just thumb their nose at Theresa May, they have also rejected the idea that policy should be driven by the reaction of financial markets and the cacophonous chorus from the right-wing media. Take all those factors together and it looks rather like a return to grassroots democracy.

It's Not Too Much, and You're Not Too Young to Vote

The opinion polls may be all over the shop, but one key revelation is that one factor that explains the difference in their forecasts is their estimate of the turnout among the 18-24 age group. The vast majority of that group has been wowed by Jeremy Corbyn. Whether they vote should be a no brainer.

Cancel Trump's State Visit and Invite Ariana Grande Instead

The general election campaign has revealed that Theresa May is bad at choosing allies. She has snubbed Europe in favour of an intemperate bully. After Donald Trump smeared Sadiq Khan following the London terrorist attack, she should cancel his State Visit and invite someone more worthy.

Not so much back to 1970s, more to the economic debate of 1930s

The Tory and Labour manifestos take us back, not to the 1970s but to the 30s and 40s when the great rivals, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek, waged an intellectual battle that echoes to the present day. At its heart, should we borrow, or not, to stimulate economic growth?

The Curious Irony of President May and Prime Minister Trump

As Donald Trump finds himself blocked by the courts, impeded by Congress and criticised by the press for his chaotic approach to government, Theresa May is sailing towards an easy landslide victory at the general election. Despite appearances, one system is working, the other is not.

Whisper It Quietly, but the Real Culprits of the Brexit Disaster Are... Us

This week Theresa May will invoke Article 50. Perhaps it is time to look at the causes of Brexit: record employment masks long-term unemployment and unease in areas that have lost industries and jobs. We need an agenda that can hail the benefits of globalisation and invests to make them available for all.

Tory Supremacy Confirmed. Now They Eat Their Own

Breaking a manifesto commitment Philip Hammond decided to use his Budget to attack the growing number of self-employed people with a hefty tax bill. Jeremy Corbyn did not mention it in his response. It seems the only effective opposition is the media.

Europe, Resist! Trump’s Poisonous Politics Need Not Infect Us All

Nationalism is threatening the European consensus of openness and inclusiveness. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen build support but so do centre-left Martin Schulz and Emmanuel Macron. Distrust of establishments grows, but the populism of Donald Trump is not the only way to win.

Trump means Trump, but who the hell knows what Brexit is?

As May flies into the United States this weekend to become the first leader to meet Trump, people on this side of the Pond will get a good idea of what the Special Relationship will mean for our small island once it’s cast adrift from the European continent.


Following strong post-referendum growth, the economics profession has a clear opportunity to make two vital points. The first is to echo that mea culpa and say that it was wrong to be so definite, but insist that by using billions of data points from the past it can make a pretty good estimate about the future.

Don't Waste Time on a Clown - End the Ills That Got Trump Into the White House

Donald Trump just a pantomime villain with an arsenal of vile epithets and put-downs but saying that his election is the end of the world is simply diverting attention away from the failures of the current political, business and wealth-owning elites across the developed world that have allowed people like him to win power.

Review: A Snapshot Image of the Thames Estuary’s Swirling Waters

Rachel Lichtenstein's Estuary is a gentle celebration of histories and communities rather than a socio-economic tract or a historical whodunit. But maybe just as she helped pioneer the current obsession with Brick Lane, Estuary may do the same for this vast yet largely ignored stretch of water.

The IMF’s return to Keynes comes too late for world economy

After five years of austerity the idea of borrowing to invest is only beginning to emerge in the global economic and political debate. Christine Lagarde has been putting the case for more government spending. We will have a modest fiscal stimulus in many countries but not with international coordination or with any IMF advice.

If the right-wing press need to attack McDonnell, he must be onto something

A higher minimum wage; billions of borrowing to fund infrastructure; opposition to the transatlantic trade deal; initiatives to ease the plight of those left behind by globalisation. McDonnell seems halfway there with a string of initiatives aimed at reaching out to voters.

Review: A Nobel Economist’s Plea to Save the Euro

Whenever they are given the opportunity, voters reject more Europe. Yet on every occasion policy remained unchanged. The euro may not have failed but Joseph Stiglitz's new book is a devastating indictment of the way that the Eurocracy established the European single currency.

Why there may be an American Spring this summer

Amid an incredibly febrile world, eyes are again turning to the perennially stable United States. But the image that greets them now is not calm but powerful Uncle Sam but a simmering pot of tensions. If a solution does not come from Clinton or Trump then one can only hope there is a new potential unifier waiting in the wings.

Review: To Beer Or Not To Beer, That Is The Question

A fast-moving mix of Whose Line is It Anyway, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers mixed with a fair dose of Burlesque, Shit-faced Shakespeare is a quintessentially British take on the country’s most celebrated playwright whose 400th birthday happens to fall this year.

Post-Brexit Body Count: Mark Carney is the Last Man Standing

David Cameron has fallen on his sword, Boris Johnson has abandoned his prime ministerial ambition, while Jeremy Corbyn is hanging on to the Labour leadership by his finger nails. The one person to emerge with honour intact is Mark Carney, the Canadian who has run the Bank of England for the last three years.

IMF admits that ‘neoliberalism’ can fuel inequality and stunt growth

There may not be much rejoicing yet, but the repentance by the International Monetary Fund over its devotion to policies of neoliberal austerity policies will certain leave many of its critics with a wry smile.

Greece, debt relief, philosophy and…cricket

Since it first emerged almost six years ago that Greek politicians had committed financial jiggery-pokery that had left their proud country on the brink of default, the response of the rest of Europe has been clear: the Greeks must pay for the consequences through austerity.

Oil’s well that ends well? Yes for the climate but not for austerity-hit families

The price of oil has risen from around $32 a barrel in mid-February to almost $50 a barrel by mid-May. On 16 May alone while Boris Johnson was banging on about Hitler and George Osborne was courting in Ryanair, Brent crude jumped 2.5% in one day alone. The worry is that oil prices are on the brink of a delayed surge in prices.

Winning London was critical: Now Sadiq Khan must deliver

The new London mayor has major goals on affordable housing, transport and business - none of which is likely to be solved within 100 weeks let alone 100 days. But it is essential that voters see some details on his manifesto pledges and the first steps being taken towards achieving them.

Inequality: the movie. This time it’s personal

It is a good sign that a political issue has achieved “meme” status when it becomes the subject of a film. Finally poverty and particularly the gaping inequality between the richest and poorest in western societies are - not before time - getting their place on the red carpet.

Nationalisation: Tata Steel shows it’s not always a dirty word

The decision by the Mumbai board not to shut Tata Steel means the steel plants in Port Talbot in South Wales as well as sites across the Midlands and the North will stay open. But if no buyers are found the impact will clearly be devastating on industrial regions of the country that have taken a series of hits since deindustrialisation took hold in the early 1980s.

Grassroots protests are great, but Labour needs to up its game

People protesting against the Housing Bill have launched their own perfect imitation of London’s Evening Standard newspaper to get the message of their opposition out to the electorate. It could be a sign that the official opposition to the Conservative administration is asleep on the job or it could simply the inevitable result of innovation in social media.

Latest global downturn puts Keynes vs Hayek back in spotlight

After the 2008 crash, disciples of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman urged governments to embark on austerity to prevent economies going bankrupt. Yet the Keynesians may just be about to move back into the ascendancy.

Down But Not Out: Why Indy’s Print Demise Doesn’t Presage The Death of Newspapers

Earnest predictions of the death of the book, the death of television, the death of the cinema and the death of the theatre have all proved to be wide of the mark. Despite The Independent's digital-only relaunch, a thirst for quality news will keep the print media alive.

Bowie, Peake, Rhodes... On Heroes, Villains and Britishness

These last weeks have been a strange time to be British. There has been an intense public debate and media focus, not on the actions of our leaders but on the reputation of some of its more individual citizens.

Why 2016 will be a year of living dangerously

Anyone expecting a happy new year after 2015 saw economic growth slow as commodity prices and emerging economies crashed while terrorist outrages and a refugee crisis sapped morale will have been disappointed.

At last the US raises rates…but we don’t need to hurry

The US Federal Reserve effectively raised the cost of borrowing money for the first time in almost a decade. American businesses and households should be able to cope. But it is the impact on other countries that has seen the most intense debate.

COP21: If Paris really was a success the world will truly look very different

The COP21 agreement is not perfect and won't guarantee a cap on the rise in temperature of 2 °C or less. But the summit has sent a clear signal that the world are treating climate change seriously.

The Climate Change Summit in Paris is a Negotiation Not a Trial

The scientific jury has come back: 97% or more of active climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are very likely due to human activities. The issue in Paris is what action politicians can agree to take.

Ignore the fine print, the Tories are looking to shrink the state

Forget the general election manifesto, today’s Autumn Statement that covers the four years from April 2016 almost precisely up to the next election is the government’s real statement of intent. Many public services are going to be savaged.

The dismal science shows why resilience after Paris matters

The reality is Daesh has the economy clearly in its crosshairs but the past suggests that homo economicus is resilient.


London is falling behind on the number of homes that need to be built each year to cater for its expanding family and strong demand by businesses for workers.

The Stink of Inequality Will Finally Make Politicians Act

Ultimately it is governments that can change the distribution of wealth and income through the policies they implement. This above all else may be the biggest impact of Jeremy Corbyn’s elevation as Labour leader is that he has put the role of the state back at the heart of the debate. No longer will both parties agree the market knows best and that we should only tinker with it a greater or lesser extent.

Corbyn May Never Win Office But He Has the Power to Reshape Britain's Politics

Jeremy Corbyn has an overwhelming mandate from his party to ask the questions that many of his parliamentary colleagues have so far been too timid to ask.

Strip out the crazy QE plan and Corbynomics looks mainstream

What will Labour’s economic agenda be on the morning of 13 September? As if to prove the old saying about economists’ ability to have two opposing views on any issue, so far one bunch has come out in favour of his plans and another strongly against.

As August Looms, Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

But if there is one thing we have learned since the onset of the global financial crisis is that August can be the cruellest month.

Freelance Britain: Bending Over Backwards in the Name of Flexibility

I am self-employed and this is how many of us work these days. And while I am neither looking for sympathy nor hoping for a medal it is worth highlighting that, even in sickness, we freelancers have to keep going when the work is there. It is now becoming a social and economic issue given the dramatic rise in the number of freelancers in recent years.

The Tories' Secret Weapon: How Osborne Used Housing to Win the Election

I first got an inkling that the Conservatives might scrape back into Downing Street a couple of years ago, over lunch during a trip to the US.

Cameron’s European Strategy is Unrealistic and Very, Very Dangerous

We all know the drill on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. If David Cameron manages to scrape home a second term as prime minister, he will start a two-year negotiation to get better terms for the UK.

Economics 101: The Deficit that Neither Tories nor Labour are talking about

The UK has an overdraft which is running at almost £98 billion. That’s because there is more money leaving our shores and then there is flowing into Britain. Economists refer to this as the current account deficit.

Retro Politics: Only More Council Flats Will Fix Britain’s Housing Crisis

If there was ever a clear case for government intervention where a market failure is taking place it’s here. And no, it’s not the George Osborne-style interventions to help people buy an over-priced homes. All that does is push prices higher.

‘The game is the game’: Greece and Germany

In the first series of the blockbuster American TV show The Wire, the anti-heroes Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell employ murder, serious violence and threats to stay one step ahead of the police and rake in profits from drug dealing. The stakes are high: capture means a heavy jail term but success translates into a small fortune. Given the options, the pair carry on in the face of any setback with the catchphrase: “The game is the game.”

Clear Our Roads of Cars and Make Way for More Guys in Lycra

Before the rise of the motorcar roads were shared between all users – walkers, carts, horses, buses, bicycles as well as the occasional car. The car was the odd one out. This demotion of the car to being just another road user is the secret of cities such as Helsinki, Amsterdam and Rotterdam just as much as the money spent on infrastructure. It’s time London did the same.

ECONOMY: These Squatters Don’t Have Dreadlocks — Surviving Spain’s Housing Crash

Squatting in Spain has become a reality, not just for those pursuing some youthful ideal or subversive lifestyle, but for people like Maria, married couples, and families, with no other recourse.

Economy: Fix the Housing Market & Save 96% of the Green belt — Win/Win, Right?

We've known for a long time that enough houses aren't being built in the UK and that this is the main reason why house prices are so out of step with what most people earn.