Interview Series: Dr Matteo Iannizzotto, PPE Coordinator

Dr Iannizzotto, “Matteo”, is a an associate professor in macroeconomics at the Business School. He is also the programme director of PPE. Many of us know little more about him than his views on Neoclassical assumptions and the RBC model. But – where does he come from? How did he end up in the job? What does he do in his free time? Last Thursday, at 9.30am, I met him at his “primary office”, Caffè Capriccio, to try and find out.

Where, in Italy, do you come from?

I was born in Florence, and I also went to university there.

What did you study as an undergraduate? 

I did the closest Italian equivalent to PPE at the time, which is called a Degree in Political Sciences. There were many routes within this. Mine was a joint honours degree in Economics, International Law and Contemporary History. And my ambition was to become a diplomat.

What made you change your mind?

Throughout my undergraduate I progressively moved towards economics. I should not do name-dropping. But for a moment, a brief moment, my dissertation supervisor was Mario Draghi, the President of the ECB. Then he left to do something else – and I will never forgive him for that – but I was taught international economics by Mario Draghi at one stage. Much as I hate his guts, for various reasons, I would have to concede that it was meeting Mario Draghi that made me decide to be an economist.

He betrayed you. 

Oh, yes, that’s how I see it. But for all he has done, you know, in Italy, I would still be willing to give money for a monument of him on horseback. From a professional point of view I cannot fault him.

I assume you then went on to do a Masters and Phd in economics.

I graduated in… oh, gosh, ’92 – and then applied for a scholarship from the Italian central bank. The scholarship, which I got, incredibly enough, financed my masters in economics at Birkbeck College London. Then, because the scholarship gave me the option of being employed, I went back to Rome in ’95 to work in the central administration of the central bank, which I did for nearly two years… and hated every single minute of it. That is when I decided that I needed to get out, and I applied for “study leave”, as it was called then, to do my doctorate at Oxford. While I was doing my doctorate I realised I would rather pursue a career in Academia in the UK.

I don’t think there were any tears on either side – certainly not on mine. Sometimes, if there is something I do not like in Durham, it takes three seconds for me to remember I am no longer at the Bank of Italy, and the sun shines.

Was Durham your first teaching position?

Yes. I applied all over the place, had a total of eight interviews, and was offered two jobs. One of them was to replace an economics fellow, he was going on a sabbatical, at St Anne’s College, Oxford. It was a temporary position. And I was offered a permanent job here. There was no contest there, none whatsoever. That was June ’99, and I came here in September, and I hadn’t submitted my doctorate theses yet. But it was not long – I submitted in December, and defended in March 2000. It now is 18 years that I have been in Durham. And, from the very first day that I arrived here, I took on 2nd year Macro. It has been mine for 18 years.

How did you come to take over as PPE coordinator?

PPE wasn’t there when I arrived. When Durham first started offering it, two years later, the idea was that the administration of the degree would rotate across the three departments on a three-year pattern. For the first three years it was run by the politics department – still in Old Elvet -, then by philosophy for three years, and we were going to be the last ones. But there was a lot of student dissatisfaction. Part of it was due to the fact that this three-year rotation arrangement created a situation of no continuity. If whoever was in charge of the degree at a given point decided to go on a sabbatical, this created further disruption. There was a comment by one student, which has stuck in my mind, to effect that “PPE had neither a father nor a mother”. At that stage, we decided, since it was coming to the economics department anyway, someone needed to take over as programme director – in the same way that there is a natural sciences director, a Natural Sciences Man. We said – that’s the model! We need continuity. I had volunteered at first for the temporary job. I had always said that, being a committed bachelor I am spectacularly ill-qualified for either the maternal or the paternal role… but there it is, this has been my lot. And I have been programme director ever since.

What was the thing that made you really glad you did it?

Oh… any number of things. The single thing that makes me most glad is the enthusiasm of the PPE lot. The extent to which PPEists are very passionate about what they are doing is something I do not see much in any other degree. This is just a casual observation: I am waiting to get into a lecture, and I hear students discussing an essay they have written, and -8.15- they are PPEists! When I take tutorials for Macro my job is to get students to talk – which they try not to do. But one year there was a group of PPEists who turned my job into getting them to shut up! Which, to an extent, was a welcome difference.

What is the most bizarre thing you have seen since taking over?

I think [laughing] the belly dancing that happened at last year’s ball is the weirdest thing I have seen happen in PPE. I think it will go down in legend. Belly dancing in the Masonic Hall is quite something.

I was on my year abroad, and I’m kind of sad I missed it. Would you recommend it for this year’s ball?

Pass.

Was it you who founded the PPE Society?

No. It was started by a group of student in the days of the Great Dissatisfaction, the Winter of Discontent. Students were dissatisfied with how disjoined the PPE course was. It was a course between three stools, never belonging to any of the three departments. There was also no occasion for PPEists to come together as PPEists, and to confront the three subjects together. The idea was to create a society that would treat all three subjects together and provide what, for various reasons, could not be done through a credit-bearing module. It is one of the main examples of the drive and enthusiasm of PPE students.

Outside of the PPE society and, of course, economics – is there a hobby, a passion, you may want to share with us?

I can give you two. I have been a rower all my life. I often go out on my boat… that’s one thing. Another hobby, which is not very secret because it is pretty conspicuous, is driving around in my 1959 Russian jeep. Against its will, I still try to keep it going. It tries at all times to remain stationary in the garage, and I try to force it not to. Sometimes I win; sometimes I don’t. That’s is the kind of thing I do.

Where did you get it from?

Germany. I drove to Germany with my Land Rover and an empty trailer, and took it back with me. When I bought it I have to confess I knew practically nothing about motor mechanics. Now [laughs] I do. If you have a vehicle of that type there are only so many things that you can ask others to do, there is a stage where you need to start getting your hands dirty and doing stuff on your own. This is my hobby. Every now and then, when I am very bored, I go down to my garage and drive it up and down my street. And that is particularly necessary in May, when marking exams. There comes a point when my head boils. I go down to the garage and breathe in the petrol fumes… that kind of thing. Very bad, yes.

How did you decide to get it?

It’s part of a vast collection. I have an interest in the Cold War. I have friends who are into that sort of thing, and we go to shows together. The interest is the raggedness of it, so to speak. It was built for the very harsh and uneven roads of the Soviet Union in the 1960’s. By the time it reaches 40 or 45 miles per hour… that’s it – there were no roads where you could go any faster, anyway. But it is a four-by-four. I drive it up to Northumberland, to the hills there, with friends of mine. I could show you the sort of slopes that I have driven up and you would say “no, you haven’t been up there” – but I have! And, what is even more frightening, I have come down, too. It is much more frightening, driving downwards [he laughs].

I have a few short-answer questions for you. Starting with what is your favourite thing about Durham?

The Castle

Favourite thing about – Capriccio’s.

Their espresso.

Favourite style of suit.

That’s a difficult one! It would be the evening tail-coat. I have got three of those now.

Most inspirational economist – past.

John Maynard Keynes. No question about that.

Most inspirational economist – present. 

[After a brief pause] I might settle for Krugman, but with reservations. “Inspirational” is a very strong word!

One very admirable politician.

Past or present?

Either.

Ah! Oh, wow. That is a difficult one. [A longer pause] I think I will settle for Konrad Adenauer.

I said this would be short-answer. But may I still ask why?

This was the first chancellor of Western Germany – an incredibly difficult job. It also involved giving the country a sense of identity while rescuing it from the wreckage, physical and moral, of the second world war. An incredibly difficult task.

Do you also have a favourite philosopher?

From my school days – Plato. Well, you know, I did the classical lyceum in Italy, and I spent five years translating Plato. Philosophy became my favourite subject – much as, when I started, I found it, until we moved on from the pre-socratics to Socrates, absolutely bewildering.

What is the highest grade ever achieved by a PPE student?

The highest I remembered was 95% in a politics dissertation, confirmed by the external examiner. I remember who it was – I can’t give you a name – but I remember him. He was on a different level. He is a barrister now, I think, and I would not like to be up against him in a case.

Is there one piece of reading you would recommend to PPE students? 

The Open Society and its enemies, by Karl Popper.

This is the first of a series of interviews with people who impact the life of PPE students. We will be speaking to professors, lecturers, tutors, department staff and careers advisers throughout the year. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch! 

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