Michael Jacobs is an economist and political scientist and commentator on political economy, international climate change and energy policy, and social democratic and green political thought.
Currently Director of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice and a Visiting Professor at University College London, he was for six years Special Adviser to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and before that head of the think tank and political association the Fabian Society.
He is the author of a number of books on environmental economics and progressive politics, including The Green Economy (1991), The Politics of the Real World (1996) and Paying for Progress: A New Politics of Tax for Public Spending (2000). His book co-edited with Mariana Mazzucato, Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, was published by Wiley Blackwell in August 2016.
Born in London in 1960, Michel Jacobs was educated in state schools in Barnet and at Wadham College, Oxford, where he gained a First in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. After leaving university he worked as coordinator for Tools for Self Reliance, a charity which refurbishes unwanted hand tools and ships them to artisans and co-operatives in developing countries. In 1984-85 he took a postgraduate diploma in local employment planning at Middlesex Polytechnic and spent the next five years as a community worker and adult educator in Southampton, working with unemployed adults.
From 1985-92 he was also a freelance foreign correspondent on British politics for a number of overseas current affairs magazines, including Australian Society, Economic and Political Weekly (India) and Perception (Canada).
In 1990 Michael joined CAG Consultants, a small employee-owned consultancy firm specialising in local economic development and public and voluntary sector management. In 1992 he was made Managing Director. With CAG he worked in a number of inner-city areas in the UK advising on community-based economic development strategies and community enterprise. He then took CAG into the environmental field, advising and training over 40 local authorities, several statutory agencies and non-governmental organisations and the Department of the Environment on environmental auditing and management and the implementation of sustainable development principles, particularly in land use planning. He wrote a number of publications in these fields.
From around 1987 Michael began to do academic and policy work in environmental economics and philosophy. His book The Green Economy: Environment, Sustainable Development and the Politics of the Future, applying the concept of sustainability and principles of thermodynamics to economic policy, was published by Pluto Press in 1991. In 1994 he won an Economic and Social Research Council Fellowship and joined the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change at Lancaster University. He later moved to the Department of Geography at the London School of Economics, where he taught a masters course in ecological economics. His academic research focused on the meaning and policy application of sustainable development; environmental valuation; the design of environmental taxation and other instruments of environmental policy; environmental innovation and growth; and the philosophy and politics of 'quality of life'. Along with a number of academic papers and book chapters, he wrote a series of policy reports and pamphlets in this period, including a Fabian pamphlet, Environmental Modernisation: The New Labour Agenda (Fabian Society 1999). He also edited a book of essays for the Political Quarterly, Greening the Millennium? The New Politics of the Environment (Blackwell 1997).
From 1993-6 Michael helped to found and coordinate the Real World Coalition, which brought together NGOs in the environment, development, poverty and democracy fields. He wrote a short book setting out an alternative agenda for British politics, The Politics of the Real World (Earthscan 1996).
In 1997, just after the formation of the new Labour Government, Michael Jacobs became General Secretary of the Fabian Society, the UK’s longstanding left of centre think tank and political association. Expanding the Society’s publications, events, membership and media profile, his work there covered the full range of social and political issues. He established a major Commission on Taxation and Citizenship, for which he wrote the report and book, Paying for Progress: A New Politics of Tax for Public Spending (Fabian Society 2000). His other writing at the Fabians included Progressive Globalisation: Towards an International Social Democracy (Fabian Society 2003) and (with Adrian Harvey) the report of the Fabian Commission on The Future of the Monarchy (Fabian Society 2003). During his six years at the Fabians Michael Jacobs became a frequent contributor to the press and broadcast media and a regular public speaker.
From October 2003 to January 2004 Michael was Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University, in Melbourne, Australia, where he did research on public service reform.
In January 2004 Michael was appointed a member of the Council of Economic Advisers at the UK Treasury, responsible for advising the Chancellor of the Exchequer on environmental, health and public services policy and spending. He also took responsibility for the development of a number of policy initiatives in relation to the third sector, including the establishment of ‘V’, the national youth volunteering service, and the creation of the Office of the Third Sector. While at the Treasury he originated and oversaw the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, which resulted in the influential Stern Report. He also oversaw a series of environmental tax and spending measures in seven Budgets and Pre-Budget Reports, along with the development of policy on emissions trading and regulation.
When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in June 2007 Michael moved to 10 Downing St as Special Adviser. At No 10 he was responsible for the development and coordination of the government’s strategy on international climate change policy and negotiations, and the development, coordination and delivery of domestic energy, climate change, environment and agriculture policy. He provided personal political and strategy advice and speech writing for the Prime Minister.
At the Treasury and No 10 Michael was closely involved in a radical overhaul of the UK’s climate and energy policy, including the Climate Change Act, Low Carbon Transition Plan, Low Carbon Industrial Strategy and the creation of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. He played a central role in directing the UK’s international climate strategy, including negotiation of the European climate and energy package in December 2008 and Prime Minister Brown’s interventions in the run up to and during (and after) the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.
After leaving government in 2010 Michael became an academic and consultant. He is Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science / School of Public Policy at University College London, where his work focuses on social democratic and green political economy and theory, and in the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, specialising in 'green growth' and low carbon economic policy. He was consultant adviser to the Children's Investment Fund Foundation from 2010-13, working on European and international climate and energy policy. From 2013-14 he was Senior Adviser on International Climate Change Policy at IDDRI (l’Institut du Développement Durable et des Relations Internationales) in Paris, working on preparations for the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015, and from 2013-16 Senior Adviser to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which he helped to establish. He was a lead author of and director of strategy for the Commission's report Better Growth, Better Climate, published in September 2014, and directed its second report, Seizing the Global Opportunity: Partnerships for Better Growth and a Better Climate, published in July 2015. He worked closely with the UK and French Governments, the UN Secretary-General's climate change team, and a network of non-governmental and business organisations on preparations and strategy for the Paris Climate Conference in December 2016.
Michael was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research from January to October 2016, where he also took on the position of Acting Associate Director of the Energy, Transport and Climate team and then Acting Research Director. In October 2016 he was appointed Director of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice, a major programme to examine the challenges facing the UK economy and make recommendations for its reform.
His book Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, co-edited with Mariana Mazzucato, was published by Wiley Blackwell in August 2016. The book brings together leading economists to challenge orthodox economic theory and policy.
Michael was Co-Editor (with Tony Wright) of The Political Quarterly from 2012-14 and remains a member of its editorial board. He provides occasional political commentary on radio and television and in the print media.
Among Michael’s other appointments and positions, he is a former trustee of ActionAid and a member of the Climate Change Advisory Board of the Children's Investment Fund Foundation. He is a governor of his local primary school. He is married with three children and lives in Hackney, east London.