About the University of Leicester

John Bonner

It is, with much regret that we have learned of the death of John Bonner who held numerous senior roles in the University from the 1960s until his retirement in 1996.

Professor Peter Jackson writes:

John graduated in economics from the University of Hull in 1954. This was followed by postgraduate study at the University of Oxford. It was at Oxford that John encountered the influences of many of the post war leading British economists such as Sir John Hicks, Sir Roy Harrod, Philip Andrews, David Worswick and M F G Scott. Most of the economists at Oxford in the decade after the war were Keynesians and played a significant role in developing the ideas of Keynes. On graduation from Oxford John joined the economics department at the recently established University of Keele before joining Leicester, as a senior lecturer in economics.

John had a strong respect for economic theory, which he coupled with an interest in the history of economic thought, especially that of the utilitarians. When it came to discussions about economic policy John was insistent that policy discussions should be conducted within an explicit analytical frame, thereby making clear many of the hidden assumptions that policy makers were making. Whilst John was clearly not antithetical to formal analysis, he was skeptical about the value of some of the creeping scientism that was entering economics in the 1960s and 1970s. 

In discussion a favourite riposte from John was, “Do you really believe that”? This provided John with some ironic amusement and stopped many leading theorists in their tracks as they struggled to explain why they were making strong statements founded on shaky analytical foundations.  It was also an effective ploy used by John at lunchtime discussions on the fifth floor of the Charles Wilson Building.

John was an outstanding teacher. He had the ability to present the most difficult and arcane ideas with clarity. Moreover, his students were served well by his extensive knowledge of his subject, which took students well beyond the comfort zone of standard textbooks. In the early 1970s John was instrumental in designing and introducing the highly successful MA in The Economics of Public Policy. This programme attracted many students, including a large number from overseas. Also, in the early 1970s, John assisted Professor Ron Meek to establish the Public Sector Economics Research Centre, which was one of the first centres in the UK to focus on the economics of climate change and environmental problems.

John’s research focused on welfare economics and public policy. His two major books were Politics, Economics and Welfare (1986) and Economic Efficiency and Social Justice; Development of Utilitarian Ideas (1995). He also made several contributions, through journal articles, to public finance. 

During his long career at Leicester John served as Head of the Economics Department, Dean of the Faculty of the Social Sciences and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. John excelled as a senior academic manager. His methodical, gentle but firm style gained him universal respect and enabled him to defuse many a difficult situation and to drive forward developmental agenda.

Our sincere sympathies and thoughts are with his family at this time.

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