Doughty campaigner for free trade and economic liberty

Brian Hindley, 1935-2012, economist and free-trade advocate
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Brian Hindley, who has died aged 76, was the UK’s foremost academic expert on the economics of commercial policy. Yet he was no dry technician. In an understated, very English way, he was a doughty campaigner against protectionism and what he viewed as overreaching by the EU.

Hindley worked on many areas including voluntary export restraints, trade in services and industrial policy. But his outstanding expertise was on anti-dumping, particularly in the EU. He was rigorous in demonstrating that policies allegedly aimed at defending business against “unfair competition” were protectionist. Those against whom he argued often found his arguments infuriating, because they were right.

The salient characteristic of his scholarly writing was an ability to bring economics to bear on the institutional details of policy. Hindley applied the forensic style he had learned at the University of Chicago from Milton Friedman, whose monetarism he embraced, and George Stigler, supervisor of his thesis on the separation of corporate ownership and control.

Although he took no intellectual prisoners, he was unfailingly courteous. Such was his integrity that many of those with whom he disagreed respected him personally. Those who knew him as a friend delighted in his tough-mindedness, decency and robust sense of humour.

Hindley spent almost all his academic career at the London School of Economics. Yet while enjoying the company of some of his LSE colleagues, he had no interest in theorising or conventional statistical analysis. This rendered him an outsider in academic economics. But he was incapable of adapting either his work or his opinions to fashion.

Much of Hindley’s work on commercial policy was for the Trade Policy Research Centre in London, where he was counsellor for studies from 1976 to 1989 (and the writer was director of studies in 1981-87). He also worked on trade policy for the World Bank, the OECD, the World Trade Organisation, the Centre for Policy Studies (where he co-directed a unit in the 1990s), the Institute for Economic Affairs and, in Brussels, the European Centre for International Political Economy.

His 1994 polemical paper for the CPS, called “The Goldsmith Fallacy: Why open trade and the Gatt are best”, was a notably successful rejoinder to James Goldsmith’s The Trap, a passionate assault on free trade. In the words of the Daily Telegraph, he takes Goldsmith’s arguments “and elegantly knocks them down one by one”.

Hindley was also a founder member of the Bruges Group, created in response to Margaret Thatcher’s speech in the Flemish city in 1988 in which she declared that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level”. He became involved out of concern at the encroachment of the EU on the UK’s economic liberties, rather than on its sovereignty. He wanted the group to provide a civilised forum in which those concerned about the consequences of Britain’s EU membership could engage, irrespective of party allegiance.

He authored pamphlets on the topic, including “Europe, Fortress or Freedom?” in 1989. Becoming co-chairman along with Barry Legg, a campaigner on tax and former Conservative MP, he viewed his task as one of maintaining high intellectual and editorial standards. But a clash between the two prompted Hindley to quit.

In 1996, he co-wrote (with Martin Howe QC) “Better Off Out: The benefits or costs of EU membership”, for the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Hindley was born on June 20 1935 in Nottingham, where his father was in the police. He went to Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School for Boys in nearby Mansfield, afterwards serving for two years in the Royal Air Force. He worked briefly as a management trainee with Marks and Spencer but soon left for Canada.

While there, he was accepted at the University of Chicago. The story Hindley told was that he went to the local public library looking for a prospectus for Columbia university in New York, which the library did not have. He took the next volume on the shelf, which was for Chicago.

Hindley’s first academic position was at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, between 1964 and 1967. He joined the LSE in 1967, becoming senior lecturer in 1981 and reader in 1995. He retired in 2000. In addition, he was a visiting scholar at many academic and official institutions.

Married twice, to Judy Phelps and then Anne Green, he had two children, John and Anna, from his first marriage; twins Emma and Katherine from the second; and a granddaughter, Alice.

A voracious reader, Hindley displayed interests that ranged well beyond policy tracts – to the extent that they even included a particular love of crime novels.

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