22 Aug 2022
Steve Davies was one of a handful of leading IO economists in the UK whose research developed the discipline during the decades as it evolved from naïve structure-conduct-performance, through game theory and econometric identification of causation, to the ‘economic approach’ in practical competition policy and policy evaluation. He was General Editor of the Journal of Industrial Economics (1988 to 1993), and Academic Adviser to the Competition and Markets Authority and its forerunner the Office of Fair Trading (2001 to 2015). He was also an inspiring teacher, generous PhD adviser, central to the department’s positive social atmosphere, committed Arsenal fan, and loving family man.
Steve attended a grammar school in North London before joining only the second cohort of undergraduates at the new University of Warwick (in 1966). After his MA, he took a research post at the NIESR, before returning to Warwick for his PhD. Although initially planning to study macroeconomics, he came under the influence of the emerging industrial economics group. After turning down several other jobs, he was appointed to a lectureship at Sheffield University before moving to the University of East Anglia in 1980 as senior lecturer then professor. He was one of the four founding members of the Centre for Competition Policy (originally an ESRC research centre).
Steve was an excellent statistician, as well as economist; in fact, his prized possession from his PhD years was a copy of Aitchison and Brown’s ‘The Lognormal Distribution’. Throughout his career, he was excited to find out what patterns were revealed in the data and how these patterns should and, equally important, should not be interpreted. He published on a wide range of topics around productivity, market structure and competition policy. His research developed our understanding of the diffusion of new industrial processes, distribution of firm sizes, measurement of concentration and other dimensions of market structure (including diversification, multinationals and European integration), disentangling market power and efficiency effects, measuring the benefits of competition, identifying structural indicators of tacit collusion and cartels, and much more.
For the last 25 years, he was a pioneer in the evaluation of competition policy, including monopoly investigations, merger remedies and cartels, and the impact of interventions on innovation and deterrence. His research was enormously helpful to practitioners, and he worked closely with the OFT/CMA and the European Commission as well as the OECD. He had a particular interest in helping competition authorities in many developing economies. He was the main architect of the methodologies used by the UK authorities in their annual policy impact evaluations.
Steve was an inspirational teacher, focusing on an engaging narrative and using humour to maintain student attention. He committed a great deal of his time both intellectually and socially to junior colleagues and PhD students, dozens of whom became his co-authors. With the same positive spirit, he used to run surgeries at the OFT for young economists trying to grapple with the economics behind the cases they had to deal with. He was less tolerant of established economists or colleagues in the university hierarchy and could be curmudgeonly with those he decided were bluffers, unjustifiably arrogant or inflexible imposers of unhelpful rules. On the other hand, he was a fantastically loyal, kind and helpful friend to academics and administrators who he decided were alright!
He had a sharp mind, keenly challenging others to explain their ideas and worked right up to the end (yes, in hospital on his last day, he was telling his family about markets, vertical integration, regional variation and even the outlook for the CMA!). He was due to start a Leverhulme Fellowship on concentration and competition in the autumn. This was intended to apply the insights of his lifetime of research to key policy concerns of concentration and competition. Sadly, that project will not now be completed.
His family was close and central in Steve’s life. He met his wife, Cathy, when they were both students at Warwick and they were inseparable until she died eight years ago. He remained cheerful and good company despite his own illness and maintained a philosophical but positive outlook on life. He leaves two daughters, a son, five grandchildren, and an Arsenal season ticket.
Tribute by Bruce Lyons