Palmy: better with economists

A couple of weeks ago Matt and I had the pleasure of attending the annual NZAE conference in Palmerston North. Attendance was disappointingly low, which I blame on Palmy, but it was great fun nonetheless. For that we can thank Seamus, who blogs at Offsetting Behaviour: he organised the whole thing, presented a couple of papers, and somehow didn’t end up looking frazzled the entire time. In fact, it ran incredibly smoothly from the perspective of an attendee, with only a few minor hiccups at the conference awards that I’m sure were intentional gags to provoke a few laughs! So thanks to Seamus and the organising committee for an excellent event and we look forward to seeing more of you there next year.

I didn’t manage to see everything I wanted to but here are a few highlights. I’m sure Matt will want to add a few of his own, too.

  • The blogging session was novel and saw a great presentation from Berk Ozler. If you’re not already reading his blog, Development Impact, you can read what he had to say about the conference here. The following panel discussion was interesting, although it would have been nice to have more time for comments and discussion from the floor. I hope it encouraged a few more people to comment on the NZ economics blogs; I’ve certainly seen a few attendees of that session jump into our comment threads since, which is great!
  • The keynote’s I saw were all fantastic. Lutz Kilian’s presentation on oil markets was more interesting than oil market econometrics have any right to be. He’s also a very forceful and persuasive presenter; I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the other side of an argument with him, that’s for sure! Leslie Young’s comment on the complexity of financial systems and the differences between China and America’s markets was also very insightful.
  • Watching Andrew Coleman advocate for a capital gains tax, followed immediately by Seamus putting up a slide entitled ‘Capital gains taxation is an insidious taking’, was entertaining. I don’t think they actually had a substantive disagreement but it’s always fun to see two excellent economists take opposing sides in a debate.
  • Arthur Grimes’ presentation on wellbeing indices brought interesting empirics to the discussion of their value over and above GDP measures. I think that’s worthy of a blog post on it’s own.
  • But the best part of a conference isn’t the papers, it’s the people. NZ economists are an incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming bunch so I highly recommend turning up next year, if only for the beer and banter!

Of course, there were a few things that didn’t work quite so well. A notable problem was with the use of discussants, who often had only hours to formulate their comments on a paper. Consequently, the depth of discussants’ comments was often disappointing, particularly given how talented many of the discussants were. I don’t know what went wrong with the system but hopefully the problems can be ironed out for next year. Having discussants took a lot of time away from presentations and audience questions, which was a shame when the discussants had not had time to adequately prepare.

Nonetheless, it was a good conference and we’ll be back next year in Wellington. Matt’s already starting to crowd-source his paper on the economics of tarot card reading!