Motorway intersection
Alan Walters was a great figure in economics. The obituaries today focus mainly on his contributions to macro-economics and as an advisor to Mrs Thatcher. I would like to make a brief comment about one of his many contributions to micro-economics and invite the comments of others.

In the mid-1980s I did an undergraduate dissertation on road pricing. Alan’s work in this area (together with that of Gabriel Roth) from the early 1960s was brilliant. In 1984 it was still clearly the best exposition of the theory and the most comprehensive development of the theory available. Three contributions are worth mentioning.

The first was a paper in Econometrica: “The theory and measurements of private and social cost of highway congestion” (Econometrica, 29, 676 – 699). The second was The Smeed Report on which he worked (with Gabriel Roth, Michael Beesley and others), which was published in 1964. The third was The Economics of Road User Charges. Even today, there has been virtually nothing to add to that work of the 1960s, the first of which was published 47 years ago when Alan Walters was 35. The fact that Alan Walters’ work in that field (as in others) was so enduring yet comprehensible even to an undergraduate tells you something about his extraordinary insight and powers of exposition.

Philip Booth 154x154

Academic and Research Director, IEA

Philip Booth is Academic and Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary's University, Twickenham. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an advisor on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs and on the editorial boards of various other academic journals. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.

8 thoughts on “Alan Walters’ enduring work on road pricing”

  1. Posted 06/01/2009 at 15:56 | Permalink

    Alan Walters’ field of interest in economics was very broad and surprisingly varied. As well as his major contributions to monetary and transport economics, he did very good work in econometrics. I found Alan’s econometrics text particularly helpful. Moreover, he was always willing to give time to the IEA. When I was editor of Economic Affairs, Alan wrote a column about developments in Washington, full of colour (and always on time). He said to me ‘the IEA is such fun’ and he helped make it so.

  2. Posted 06/01/2009 at 15:56 | Permalink

    Alan Walters’ field of interest in economics was very broad and surprisingly varied. As well as his major contributions to monetary and transport economics, he did very good work in econometrics. I found Alan’s econometrics text particularly helpful. Moreover, he was always willing to give time to the IEA. When I was editor of Economic Affairs, Alan wrote a column about developments in Washington, full of colour (and always on time). He said to me ‘the IEA is such fun’ and he helped make it so.

  3. Posted 07/01/2009 at 10:29 | Permalink

    Philip mentions Alan’s The Economics of Road User Charges, an outstanding piece on investment and pricing issues. He was also interested in the same issues in relation to aviation. Having started work on the subject at the World Bank he then became a member of the Roskill Commission on the Third London Airport. The result was a book on aircraft noise, work on discount rates in CBA and a commanding survey article on airport economics in the Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, May 1978.

  4. Posted 07/01/2009 at 10:29 | Permalink

    Philip mentions Alan’s The Economics of Road User Charges, an outstanding piece on investment and pricing issues. He was also interested in the same issues in relation to aviation. Having started work on the subject at the World Bank he then became a member of the Roskill Commission on the Third London Airport. The result was a book on aircraft noise, work on discount rates in CBA and a commanding survey article on airport economics in the Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, May 1978.

  5. Posted 07/01/2009 at 10:31 | Permalink

    The Transport Act 1985 reformed bus regulation, freeing up and privatising the industry. I had initiated this, under the supervision of G J Ponsonby, and Margaret Thatcher once told me of her approval – this must have been based on Walters’ interest in transport.

  6. Posted 07/01/2009 at 10:31 | Permalink

    The Transport Act 1985 reformed bus regulation, freeing up and privatising the industry. I had initiated this, under the supervision of G J Ponsonby, and Margaret Thatcher once told me of her approval – this must have been based on Walters’ interest in transport.

  7. Posted 09/01/2009 at 11:55 | Permalink

    I really admired Alan Walters. Both as a technical economist and as a man with real moral courage – and one who persisted in the face of disgraceful ad hominem attacks – I felt that he was a towering figure, though one sadly underestimated on both counts. He will be missed.

  8. Posted 09/01/2009 at 11:55 | Permalink

    I really admired Alan Walters. Both as a technical economist and as a man with real moral courage – and one who persisted in the face of disgraceful ad hominem attacks – I felt that he was a towering figure, though one sadly underestimated on both counts. He will be missed.

Comments are closed.