Michael Whittaker Jones-Lee

3rd April 1944 to 22nd February 2021

Emeritus Professor Michael Whittaker Jones-Lee was a pioneering researcher in the economics of safety policy and risks to human life and health. He was appointed Departmental Chair in Economics at Newcastle University (UK) in 1977 and Adjunct Professor of Risk Management, University of Stavanger, Norway, from 2007 – 2012.  He retired in 2010 and was accorded the title of Emeritus Professor. He remained actively engaged in research up until his death.

His research had a fundamental influence on UK policy appraisal. He was central to the adoption of a preference-based measure of a Value of Statistical Life, first in the UK and later in the EU and New Zealand. This superseded Gross Output based measures; a change that reflected his strong ethical belief that people are more than the sum of their (discounted) lifetime productivity. In return, he provided economists with a rigorous theoretical framework to underpin their subsequent research into economics of safety and physical risk (see for example the two books Jones-Lee (1976; 1989), as well as carrying out a number of pioneering empirical studies of his own.  A related area of great interest to him was that of altruism and safety. His work in this area continues to be a source of scholarly pleasure for us all.  Mike published many articles on the economics of safety in numerous journals, but the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty was particularly close to his heart and for which he served as Associate Editor. In 2015, a special issue of the journal was published in the honour of his contribution https://link.springer.com/journal/11166/volumes-and-issues/51-1

Over his long career, he also worked on substantial contracts for the Department for Transport, the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, Railtrack, Health and Safety Executive and Department of Health. He acted as Specialist Advisor to the Enquiry into Government’s Policy on the Management of Risk by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. 

Mike was very passionate about his teaching and the students adored him – so much so that they in the early days of Facebook, set up a fan page for him. His lectures were very engaging, and he would go through a great deal of effort to include different magic tricks, jokes etc.  A  ‘classic Mike’ was to ‘disappear’ behind the lecture desk using an invisible staircase.   

His passing is a loss to his family, friends and colleagues, and the field more generally. He was a brilliant economist – who also held a degree in Mechanical Engineering  of which he was very proud – with a wicked sense of humour. A great combination in a truly unique person.