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Bill Phillips and the Ultimate Teaching Resource

Jonny Clark

26th June 2013

If, like me, you were fortunate enough to attend this week's Tutor2u Economics Teacher National Conference in London, I'm sure you would have been equally captivated by Tim Harford's talk on the life and times of Bill Phillips. It was fascinating to know that Phillips was so much more than just a downward sloping curve!

Whilst I can't do justice to Tim's engaging narrative, some of the interesting facts we were told included:

  • Phillips was an engineer by trade - he became an economist later on in life
  • He spent much of the Second World War as an inmate in a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp
  • Whilst imprisoned, he built a radio so small it could be hid in his wooden clog to avoid detection and his almost certain execution if discovered
  • That he was critical of his own findings on the relationship between money wages (later inflation) and unemployment that generated the Phillips curve - Bill would have made an excellent A level student!

Moreover, whilst we pride ourselves here at Tutor2u in our endless pursuit of innovative and engaging teaching resources that bring our subject alive, Phillips invented the grand-daddy of all classroom activities in his Moniac (Money National Income Analogue Computer) machine.


If you have never seen or heard of the Moniac, I've included links to a couple of video clips below. The machine combined Phillip's scientific knowledge as a hydro-electric power engineer and his economics understanding to create fridge-sized contraption which illustrates the flow of money income in the UK via chambers of water, valves and pipes. His original machine is located in the Science Museum in London, but others that he built are on display around the world including at the Federal Reserve Bank in Wellington, New Zealand. Eat your heart out Powerpoint!

This link shows a demonstration of a real Moniac in operation

This link shows a computer generated model of the same process

Follow this link to Tim Harford's website

Jonny Clark

Jon Clark has been teaching economics and business studies for over 25 years primarily in the Further Education sector. Before joining tutor2u, he was a senior manager at South Cheshire College in Crewe.

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