Ian Bradley, 1943-2019

Tributes paid to an academic ‘free spirit’ who applied economic principles to gambling and car parking permits

October 24, 2019
Ian Bradley, 1943-2019

A boldly interdisciplinary economist has died.

Ian Bradley was born in Liverpool in 1943, won a scholarship to Merchant Taylors’ Boys’ School in Crosby and secured a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge at the age of 16, although he then worked in the docks until he was old enough to attend university.

After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in economics, Mr Bradley joined the University of Bristol before going on to spend four decades at the University of Leicester. Even after formal retirement in 2008, he continued teaching at the universities of Buckingham and Sheffield.

In the early 1980s, Mr Bradley received United Nations funding to teach students in Shanghai about the market economy, which allowed him to pursue a passion for horse racing. Gambling was also one of his core research interests. Convinced that standard utility functions did not explain very well the behaviour of gamblers, he built on both game theory and prospect theory to illuminate, for example, how someone chasing their losses tends to behave very differently from someone who has been winning.

Deeply committed to the value of multidisciplinary approaches to economics, Mr Bradley set up a pioneering economics and law degree at Leicester. He also produced important research on different ways of regulating industries privatised under the Thatcher administration.

Martin Hoskins, lecturer in economics at Leicester, described Mr Bradley as a dedicated teacher, highly effective head of department and “one of the last of a generation of free spirits”. He recalled an occasion when they had “spen[t] about five minutes…standing in the corridor while we designed a new master’s degree programme which earned millions for the university”.

On another occasion, Dr Hoskins added, the university was looking for new sources of income “and the economics department, being economists, could see no reason why car parking spaces should be free. Internal departmental discussions naturally turned to how much could be charged and what method of allocation should be used…Ian took an empirical approach and got one of his students to survey university staff. They were asked how much they would pay for a car parking space [or] how much they would sell their space for…This was remarkably successful and elicited some entertaining responses. One professor of physics replied: ‘I couldn’t possibly sell my permit, it’s my property’ – apparently unaware that it’s illegal to sell other people’s property.”

Mr Bradley died on 16 September 2019 after a short illness and is survived by his wife Deborah Cartmell – professor of English and associate pro vice-chancellor (research) at De Montfort University – and their two children.

matthew.reisz@timeshighereducation.com

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