Rob Johnson

Involvement Social

Rob Johnson is the President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), which he co-founded with George Soros, William Janeway, and James Balsillie in 2009. From the outset, the founders envisioned INET as a globally engaged network that could lead the evolution of economic thought toward the interest of people and the planet. For over a decade Johnson has convened global initiatives with the greatest economic minds of our time, including conferences around the world, from Bretton Woods to Hong Kong; the Commission on Global Economic Transformation, in partnership with academics, business leaders, policymakers, and NGOs; the Young Scholars Initiative; new economic thinking curricula and online courses with leading scholars like Michael Sandel and Perry Mehrling; and groundbreaking research projects that challenge economic orthodoxy.

In 2020, when the world was at the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, Johnson and the Institute for New Economic Thinking opened up a new channel, bringing leading thinkers to the table on his podcast/videocast, “Economics and Beyond with Rob Johnson.” The podcast draws on the expertise of the Commission on Global Economic Transformation, Nobel laureates, and economic experts associated with INET and beyond. Discussion topics range broadly, from the latest economic ideas, to the climate crisis and the pandemic, to the impact of music and the arts on public policy.

Johnson has also been an international investor and consultant to investment funds and philanthropic institutions on issues of strategy. He sits on the board of directors of both the Economic Policy Institute and the Campaign for America’s Future, serves on the external advisory council of Princeton University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and is the former President of the National Scholastic Chess Foundation. He served on the United Nations Commission of Experts on International Monetary Reform under the Chairmanship of Joseph Stiglitz, and has also taught as an adjunct professor at the Union Theological Seminary and at SIPA at Columbia University

Previously, Johnson was a Managing Director at Soros Fund Management where he managed a global currency, bond, and equity portfolio specializing in emerging markets. His focus was on emerging Asia with a particular focus on the development of China. Johnson has been a participant in many forums in China and is a frequent attendee of the China Development Forum in Beijing. Johnson began his private-sector career at Bankers Trust Company as a macro strategist and portfolio manager focused on the financial strategies of intra-European currency trading. At Soros Fund Management, Johnson was also a part of the famous team of speculators that broke the Bank of England in 1992, forcing the British pound out of the ERM.

Johnson served as Chief Economist of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee under the leadership of Chairman William Proxmire (D - Wisconsin) at the time of the 1987 stock market crash and the savings and loan crisis. Before this, he was Senior Economist of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee under the leadership of Chairman Pete Domenici (R - New Mexico).

Johnson is also a documentary film producer, whose credits include Amazing Grace (directed by Alan Elliott), the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (directed by Alex Gibney), and Money-Driven Medicine (directed by Andrew Fredericks).

Related to his work as a documentary film producer are his ongoing efforts to bring technical economic issues to a wider and more general public by supporting the creation of economics courses, such as The Economics of Money & Banking, by Perry Mehrling, and fostering a cooperation agreement between the Pontifical foundation Scholas Occurrentes and the INET’s Commission on Global Economic Transformation.

Johnson also founded and ran a music organization under the name of Bottled Majic Music that made blues and roots music recordings on the Rooster Blues and Okra-Tone labels and evolved into music artist management and music documentary film production.

Johnson received a Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Princeton University and a B.S. in both Electrical Engineering and Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

By this expert

A Better Bailout Was Possible

Article | Sep 20, 2018

Back in 2008, a critical opportunity was missed when the burden of post-crisis adjustment was tilted heavily in favor of creditors relative to debtors. The result was not only prolonged stagnation, but also the Republican Party’s embrace of demagogic populism and the election of Donald Trump.

When the Levee Broke

Article | Sep 4, 2018

Ten years ago, the financial crisis washed away faith and trust in economics as a guide to social prosperity. Filling a void is difficult. We are still hard at work. 

INET Memo to G20: The Trouble with Economic Research Evaluation

Article | May 28, 2018

In a memo for the G20, INET calls for changes to the evaluation of economic research to ensure that economic theory—and policy—is more rigorous, innovative, and in service to society. 

Breaking the Stranglehold of the Orthodoxy in Economics

Article | May 28, 2018

Introducing INET’s body of work on dysfunctions in research evaluation, Rob Johnson shows how breaking academic conformity is vital for the economics profession—and the economy itself.

Featuring this expert

Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil

Video | Jun 16, 2021

You have the power to reframe and reimagine the 21st century.

Rob Johnson, Pia Malaney, and other INET scholars have signed a letter in the FT in response to a call for a return to austerity

News Jun 15, 2021

“Moreover, too little government spending can increase company bankruptcies and lead to less investment in research and development, hurting the supply side of our economies — potentially exacerbating inflationary pressures. The EU has gone through a decade of demand stagnation, performing well below its productive potential. Inflationary forces of the 1970s are no longer intact, not least because of declining labour bargaining power, changing demographics, high inequality and private debt overhang. Without concerted fiscal expansion to scale-up investment and protect the vulnerable, aggregate demand will remain low and standards of living will stagnate. Instead of fetishising fiscal discipline, we should prioritise more important social, economic and environmental outcomes — like creating well-paid green jobs, lifting millions out of poverty and implementing green infrastructure projects.” — From Frank van Lerven and others, Financial Times

Rob Johnson and other commissioners sign a public letter on the importance of coming together to fight climate change

News Jun 8, 2021

“Overcoming the COVID-19 crisis and ensuring a rapid and equitable economic recovery are only two of the challenges we must meet in 2021. This year will also be a crucial one for achieving the goal of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century.” — Project Syndicate

Rob and Spence’s session at the Trento Festival is quoted in L’Adigetto

News Jun 7, 2021

“What is the real meaning of the return of the state in a world that after the pandemic starts a boom in the technology sector with the advantages and risks that this entails? The response of the Nobel laureate in economics Michael Spence during the discussion with Robert Johnson, president of Inet (Institute for New Economic Thinking) was clear: “I believe that the return of the Statto means many things. The state is very important for social protection, to remedy the failures of the market. There will be changes in the models of globalization but people think about the state and not about globalization. And the state must be able to respond to citizens’ expectations.” And in the face of what Johnson called “growing political despair” ( even as Biden has made progress in restoring confidence in citizens after the inequalities caused by the pandemic ), a new political class is needed.” -L’Adigetto

Offsite links

Will Trump’s White Working Class Voters Be Seduced and Abandoned?

Nov 21, 2016 Background Briefing with Ian Masters