London — It was one of the most influential reports ever written by a modern British economist — and perhaps the most rushed. Stephen Littlechild, then a little-known academic, was commissioned by Margaret Thatcher’s government in October 1982 to design a regulatory mechanism that would prevent Britain’s soon-to-be privatised telecoms monopoly, BT, from exploiting its position and gouging the public. The work was urgent. The prime minister wished to push through legislation that would enable the company to be sold as soon as possible, making it a pioneer for the privatisation of public utilities that she hoped would create a new shareholding democracy in Britain. She needed the report by January 14 1983, which Prof Littlechild said gave him just "10 working weeks (allowing for Christmas!)". His formula "was invented between 5 and 7 January 1983" allowing just a single week "to write it up in a plausible way, test it against the specified criteria, [and] conclude that it was the best...

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