James Robertson grew up in Scotland and Yorkshire, and then studied classics, history and philosophy at Oxford. In the 1950s he worked in the Colonial Office, as the remaining British colonies came towards independence. Development plans for Mauritius and Seychelles introduced him to the UK Treasury and public policy-making on money. Three years in the Cabinet Office led to his first book, Reform of British Central Government (1971). James then worked setting up the Inter-Bank Research Organisation (IBRO) for the big banks.
As a writer and adviser on future economic, social and ecological change, he combined his earlier experience and a new interest in ecology, feminism, futures studies and the ‘convivial society’ and ‘small is beautiful’ ideas of Ivan Illich and E. F. Schumacher. His book The Sane Alternative followed in 1978. Then in 1983 James helped Jonathon Porritt and Paul Ekins to set up The Other Economic Summit (TOES), later the New Economics Foundation (nef).
James has worked and lectured for many organisations and people, including the World Health Organisation and the European Commission. In 2003 James received a gold medal from the Pio Manzù Centre, an international institute for the in-depth study of the main economic and scientific aspects of the relationship between man and his environment. Its Scientific Committee, whose President is Mikhail Gorbachev, called James “an outstanding example of a modern thinker at the service of society”.