In the numbers

John Phelan is appointed the Center’s first staff economist

John Phelan’s road to being named first staff economist at Center of the American Experiment may have begun in 2003, when he was bored and confined to a bed in his parents’ home in England as he convalesced from a back surgery. Picking through a pile of books that belonged to his father, the 22-year old came upon The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek and Free to Choose by Milton Friedman.

A light bulb went on.

“I was interested in politics. I’d not really thought about economics particularly until then. I read those books and I started to read up around that body of literature, economics generally, free market economics particularly,” he says now.

An uninspired student, Phelan had dropped out of college at 18 and taken a job in credit and debt management. At 26, he started studying for a degree at Birkbeck College, an evening university related to the University of London, so he could continue working full time. While there he started publishing book reviews and op-eds, particularly for Standpoint magazine, a British version of Weekly Standard. He enrolled in a Master’s program at the London School of Economics, again opting for a program that would allow him to work full time.

His dissertation on the Hard ECU led to an invitation to present at a seminar at the University of Buckingham, and two contributions to the Wall Street Journal. He joined Capital Economics, a London-based consultancy with more than 60 economists, conducting commissioned research.

Phelan, whose wife Mindy grew up in Cottage Grove, was hired by American Experiment in January. He was originally among three finalists for a new position as policy fellow at the Center, the result of a nationwide search. But during a Skype interview from London with the Center’s senior policy team in December, John Hinderaker confessed his sole concern was that Phelan was overqualified for the position.

Hinderaker hired Catrin Thorman as the policy fellow but decided to offer Phelan a slot as staff economist.

“I’ve always wanted to have an economist on staff here at the Center,” Hinderaker says. He was especially keen not to lose Phelan, who impressed him as an academic. “He has a terrific resume. He’s written for the Wall Street Journal. He has experience in working with consulting companies, doing analyses for paying private sector clients,” Hinderaker said.

“Plus, he was in a band, quite a good band, I’m told,” he added.

The (Soft) Rockin’ Economist

While Mick Jagger famously discarded his (short-lived) education at the London School of Economics to launch a career in music, John Phelan, in contrast, more sensibly abandoned British rock for a Master’s Degree in economics from the LSE. Phelan had played guitar and harmonica for a London-based band called MALF (pictured). After a 10-year career as an economic analyst in London, he was appointed the first staff economist at Center of the American Experiment.