Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let's Assume We Had a Bottle Opener...

Nineteen Edinburgh Academic Economists express their “Fears for the future of Adam Smith's house” in this morning's edition of The Scotsman (18 March) (here):

As economists, we agree with your leader, "Would suit entrepreneur" (12 March), concerning Panmure House, which has been placed for sale by Edinburgh City Council.
This beautiful, historic building is best known as Adam Smith's home in Edinburgh. Panmure House therefore has important associations for anyone interested in the Scottish Enlightenment, in economics and philosophy, or in the history of Edinburgh.

The availability of Panmure House is an excellent opportunity for a new and exciting development of an historically important building near the Scottish Parliament. It would be ideal as the base for a research or policy institute for economics in Scotland. It could also serve as a study centre for Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment.

The sale is being advertised as a "development opportunity", with a possibility of conversion for residential or commercial purposes. If it were converted without account of its historical importance, this would likely prevent its future public use. The possibility of the house being lost to the public is extremely worrying.

(DR) SIMON CLARK; (PROF) MARTIN FRANSMAN; DONALD GEORGE; (DR) OLGA GORBACHEV; (PROF) MAIA GUELL; (DR) RICHARD HOLT; (PROF) ED HOPKINS; (DR) KOHEI KAWAMURA; (DR) TATIANA KORNIENKO; (PROF) JOHN HARDMAN MOORE; (DR) COLIN ROBERTS; (PROF) JOSÉ V. RODRÍGUEZ MORA; DONALD RUTHERFORD; (PROF) JÓZSEF SÁKOVICS (DR) SANTIAGO SÁNCHEZ-PAGÉS; STUART SAYER; (PROF) ANDY SNELL; (DR) STÉPHANE STRAUB; (PROF) JONATHAN THOMAS”


Comment
The attitude of the signatories above contrasts with some of the responses in US Blogs.

One soulless ideologue of the extremist ‘market’ persuasion, driven by his mindless vulgarity on the normally sane Marginal Revolution blog to exclaim that if Panmure House was demolished and a MacDonald’s erected in its place: ‘So be it’!

The conditions of the sale are that the purchaser offers more than £700,000 and more than the second highest bidder. Fair enough.

The building is being sold by the Families and Children department of the City Council (along with many other properties that the Council has acquired over the years). So selling Panmure House to the highest bidder is perfectly sensible in a cash-strapped City Council, which has had its budget frozen at the current level without the usual above-inflation annual increase in its local rates extracted from its citizens.

The issues, implicit in the academics’ letter are that the sale notice is rather sudden and it needs more time for interested parties (like the local universities – of which there are four) to assemble the funds (preferably not from taxpayers) for a serious bid. I understand that the closing date for sealed bids is about three weeks or so away.

One help may be that Panmure House is ‘A listed’ and therefore heavily restricted in what a purchaser can do with it, which may keep certain future users at arm’s length.

I visited Panmure House recently and inspected its potential along the lines suggested by the Edinburgh academic economists, and I concur that it would make an ideal centre for studies related to the Enlightenment and its relevance for today’s economy, business and innovation.

But this is one occasion among many in which the old joke among economists just will not do: ‘Let’s assume we had the money for a viable bid, then this is what we would do…’.

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