A spectre is haunting my bedroom — the spectre of gross underqualifiction. All the powers of my CV have entered a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: my economics courses at Sciences Po, my experience as a cartoonist in high school, and my many PhDs as “Professor Love.” Yet I can’t help but get the feeling of a 1A applying for a Goldman Sachs internship: isn’t this a bit of a stretch?

“Too late now,” I thought, nostalgically staring at the ever-grey skies of the English Midlands, waiting for the opening address to begin. The only trench-coated individual in a sea of suits, I must have looked as out of place as I felt. Yet even in those initial moments, it was hard to miss the conference’s spirit building around me. People stood, queued, chatted, and debated as they collectively pondered which speaker, which panel, or which food truck they were most looking forward to attending. You get the feeling, when a conference is going well, that it is all-encompassing, that all that exists for those three days is within a set of walls. Whatever my personal doubts, I knew well the energy I had found myself immersed in and soon I would find out why.

From the very first talk, I found the embodiment of what I quickly came to appreciate as the essence of my interest in the Warwick Economics Summit (WES). The speaker, John Ridding (CEO of the Financial Times Group), was as knowledgeable, pertinent, and well-spoken as one may have hoped. This goes without saying. But he also embodied what I saw as the essential appeal of the summit as a whole, the title of this article, the “anti-politician.”

Politics, as I see it, is any action that affects others. Politics is thus everywhere, it is unavoidable, and it is inherent in all action. However, the goal of the politician is to embody the opposite of this. Not that politicians do not affect change, of course they do. But the job of the politician is to tailor the perception of what that change is. The politician must avoid the difficult questions, they must claim responsibility for the random successes, they above all prevent any true interrogation of their effects. The politician’s job is to minimise their politics, to prevent further questions about the vast and nebulous effects their actions have. The speakers at WES were the opposite of this, they were, as I call them, the “anti-politicians.”

As I mentioned, this began from the start. Ridding presented his vision of media and democracy today. He probed the effects of disinformation and technology, and what solutions had been and should be implemented. But crucially, when asked the tough questions, this process didn’t end. To highlight one example, when asked about whether he thought the FT’s paywall hindered its work against misinformation, he not only didn’t shy away but provided further insights into exactly how and why this was necessary for the FT from his perspective. He explained in detail the mechanisms of cooperative ownership at the FT, where they had chosen to take down paywalls, and why he still thought that this model could make a difference against disinformation. There were no prefabricated lines or corporate correspondence, only a nuanced conversation on the strengths and limitations of the path chosen. This, I realised, was the core of the appeal of WES: to watch people at the top of their fields talk in collaboration with the audience, and to follow along with each logical step that they presented.

It is through this process that I found that we could expand not only what we know, but what we need to know more about. Again this relies on the “anti-politician.” When people are willing to speak frankly, to follow their claims to their logical conclusions, we get to interrogate not only their perspectives but to expand our view of what is possible in the context of their worldview. One may think that a single hour or two cannot change the way you think and, when approached by looking only at the time itself, it really can’t. But the books you read because of that single hour, the topics you become interested in, the avenues you may go down, it is through these that we develop our views and by extension ourselves. 

If I had not gone to WES I would have no knowledge of Modern Monetary Theory, of the rebirth of Aston Martin, or of the foreign policy of Timor Leste. But more than this, on the topics I thought that I had knowledge of, I still wouldn’t know where to start. Going into WES, I thought that I knew all I needed to know about the functioning of central banks, de-dollarisation, the future of plant-based food, and the case for Tibetan independence. To be frank, WES hasn’t led to a change in my opinions on any of these things. But anti-politicians don’t show you so directly why your beliefs should change. A true interrogation of an issue doesn’t tell you that you’re wrong; rather, it shows you how little you know at all.

Looking back on WES 2024, plenty of moments stand out. Iconic quotes like the President of the Central Tibetan Administration saying that “[…] the United Nations is like a human body without arms and legs,” or Vince Cable arguing for de-dollarisation in emerging economies by saying, “Their economic future is a byproduct of American macroeconomic policy.” The satisfaction of feeling like a — to quote a text I sent to a friend — “foreign dignitary post-banquet,” having guzzled and chomped my way through as much pizza and wine as I could stomach. But most of all I keep coming back to the anti-politicians whose ideas I still don’t fully understand, but who have illuminated the ways in which I can begin to try.

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