New Zealand’s sexiest economist 2015: Voting

During the nomination round this year I kept hearing the same questions coming up.  Who am I supposed to nominate?  Why would I nominate someone?  How can I mix the ideas of economics and sexiness?

As this is an economics blog the vast majority of these comments came from economists or people with a strong interest in economics.  Now I’m yet to meet a person who “does” economics at either a professional or amateur level whose focus is on money or status.  Instead the interest in economics, and the corresponding study of economics, has come from an interest in understanding the social world – and a desire to understand if there is some way of making it better.

As a result, motivating nominations was easy, all I had to do was tell people to nominate an economist who has helped them to satisfy this desire to understand the world – specifically New Zealand.  What New Zealand economist has offered you insight into the world, and motivated you to dig deeper into your own understanding of the New Zealand economy and society.  That is where economics meets sexy.

With that in mind the nomination process is over.  Now it is down to you, dear reader, to determine which of these 20 economists most closely satisfies your personal definition of sexy – your choices will decide who wins “New Zealand’s Sexiest Economist 2015” (NZSE15).

This year there were 83 nominations, and a massive 51 different economists were nominated (in line with the 51 last year).  We have 15 changes from last years poll, and 10 people who have never been part of the NZSE finals before.  The 2013 and 2014 winners did not get sufficient numbers of nominations this year – meaning that we will have a new winner this year.  In fact, the only person to make it into all three competitions has been Nick Tuffley!

Even with all these changes, we have a very impressive line up of economists to pick from!

We will follow the same format as last year. To help you make an informed decision, below the poll is a profile section. In case you remember the face of your favourite economist, but their name has slipped your mind, I’ve also included a gallery at the very bottom.

NOTE:  The name appears BELOW the tick box for the individual you wish to vote for.  So make sure you click ABOVE the name of the person you wish to cast a vote for!

Who is New Zealand's sexiest economist in 2015?

  • Girol Karacaoglu (29%, 124 Votes)
  • Lilla Csorgo (15%, 65 Votes)
  • Benje Patterson (11%, 45 Votes)
  • Geoff Cooper (9%, 38 Votes)
  • Kirdan Lees (5%, 23 Votes)
  • John Creedy (4%, 16 Votes)
  • Paul Conway (3%, 13 Votes)
  • Sharon Zollner (3%, 11 Votes)
  • Arthur Grimes (2%, 10 Votes)
  • Dean Hyslop (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Graeme Wheeler (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Andrew Coleman (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Felix Delbruk (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Gareth Morgan (2%, 9 Votes)
  • Marilyn Waring (2%, 7 Votes)
  • Pete Gardiner (1%, 6 Votes)
  • Bill Rosenberg (1%, 6 Votes)
  • Nick Tuffley (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Ganesh Nana (1%, 4 Votes)
  • Stephen Toplis (1%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 422

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The poll will run until midnight Sunday March 1st (New Zealand time).

What am I reading?

The 2013 competition was based on irritation – why do we have all these arbitrary “sexiest XXX” competitions instead of discussing actual issues.  Why are issues of social justice, fairness, and the trade-offs faced in society often determined by whoever is the best looking or wittiest, instead of on the basis of solid analysis.  It was in a particular moment of annoyance I decided to just throw in a sexiest economist competition.

But it has carried on into a second and third year for a different reason.  You know what, as someone who on occasion tries to do some economics, I’ve seen a lot of abuse thrown economists way for just mentioning a trade-off.  Or for even existing.  I’ve seen economists careful and thoughtful work, using carefully collected data, be thrown in the bin because people didn’t think it was sexy enough.

But you know what, hell yes it is sexy enough.  And this competition is simply about admitting that economic research, on important issues that impact upon New Zealander’s lives, is sexy!


Note:  Many of the economists below are affiliated with multiple organisations – and affiliation has been set such that there is only one person nomination per organisation.

Andrew Coleman (University of Otago):  I feel the same way about this nomination as I did last year, so I’ll just say the same things.  Andrew is a personal favourite New Zealand economist of mine.  His analysis of tax and superannuation policy has been incredibly informative.  However, he has a wide range of interests when it comes to economic analysis, and great knowledge of economic history.  I find a conversation with Andrew will always help you to see a new perspective on economic and social issues.

Paul Conway (New Zealand Productivity Commission):  Last year Paul’s nomination for NZSE is based squarely on communication, and the tough role the Commission has making sure it communicates the trade-offs inherent in policy to a public and politicians who can sometimes be on the look out for a quick fix.  Although this role is still important, the myriad of nominations received for Paul were focused on one thing – his work with Lisa Meehan and Dean Parham on labour income shares in New Zealand (in fact, there were demands that the whole group should be nominated).  With Piketty reigniting the debate about factor income shares, this work was a necessary for us to build an understanding of how New Zealand “fits in” to this global debate.

Geoff Cooper (Auckland Council/ADC): Although Geoff has flown off to Princeton to undertake a Masters in Public Affairs there was still significant demand for him to be included in this year’s competition.  Geoff is most well know for his former role as Chief Economist for Auckland City, a role where he was able to help shape the direction of the new Super City – and get into an argument with Don Brash.  However, he is a co-founder of Aotearoa Development Cooperative – a microfinance cooperative that aims to provide a hand-up for those most in need around the world.  An economist that has worked on practical urban economics issues, microfinance, and had a public spat with Don Brash – I can understand why Geoff is a popular choice!

John Creedy (Victoria University of Wellington): This is John’s first year on NZSE, largely due to the fact it has taken nominees the past three years to work through the huge number of important contributions he has made to the understanding of income distribution analysis and public economics in recent decades – if you name a policy question, it is likely that John has written a paper on it.  His work on modelling the income distribution, and practically estimating “equity” effects from policy changes, were internationally significant.  However, it is his work with Jesse Eedrah on New Zealand income inequality that convinced people to nominate him this year.

Lilla Csorgo (New Zealand Commerce Commission):  While many of the economists you see on TV are hunting after attention and soundbites, industrial/competition economists typically shy away from the cameras and focus their attention solely on the more private business of legal cases around market structure.  In this way, industrial economists are often the unsung heroes of the economics profession – and as a result it is encouraging to see a ground swell of nominations for the Chief Economist of Competition Law at the Commerce Commission.  One of the nominators explained clearly why Lilla deserves your vote “She has a rare ability to explain competition law economics to the lay audience with passion and poise, and she always speaks without notes. On top of this, she works in defending the consumer against cartelists and monopolists.”.  As can be seen in Lilla’s link, she is also a talented playwright as well as a gifted economist!

Felix Delbruck (Westpac): Felix bet out close competition from his Westpac colleagues to earn a nomination for NZSE this year.  Those nominating Felix based it on the fact that his analysis tends to have a bit more technical “meat” than you usually get from free sources – making the conclusions seem more credible, and sometimes even clearer.  I personally subscribe to his releases and although I don’t always share the same views, I always find his writing enlightening and challenging. My clearest recollection of Felix is when I was an undergraduate and he was one of my tutors – explaining concepts I had no prior interest in (macroeconomics) in a concise and interesting way.

Pete Gardiner (Statistics New Zealand):  Pete offers a lot of the public facing comment, and does a lot of internal work, at Statistics New Zealand with regards to their productivity, wellbeing, and regional statistics.  Data is the life blood of a lot of what economists do – without some form of observation we are just theorycrafting – as a result, it is good to see a Statistics NZ economist get selected for the competition.  Those nominating Pete were clear to stress that he has provided input to a wide variety of projects around the public sector, and it is his ability to jump between projects and work with others that makes him stand out from other economists.

Arthur Grimes (University of Auckland):  New Zealand honestly has one of the best monetary policy regimes in the world, and Arthur Grimes is one of the key people we can thank for this – with his work on and with monetary policy has been incredibly influential.  However, he has done so much more than this – with top quality work on the housing market, regional economics, and analysing firm level performance.  He also produced what has been argued as the best article on the Treasury website.  During nominations I was informed that his jazz band is well worth a listen.

Dean Hyslop (Motu):  Dean is an internationally renowned labour economists who, luckily for us, has decided to focus his attention on labour market issues in New Zealand.  Barely a week goes by without me hearing someone refer to either this paper on inequality in New Zealand or this paper on youth minimum wages – perhaps it is the circles I hang out in, but these papers are both incredibly interesting and useful.  As well as writing policy relevant research Dean has been lecturing at Victoria University, at one point I was in his econometrics classes where he communicated technical ideas in a way that was clear and surprisingly motivating.

Girol Karacaoglu (Treasury):  Making his first appearance in the NZSE competition is Treasury’s Chief Economist.  I sometimes think that people steer away from nominating Treasury with regards to sexy economics due to its reputation of being unemotive or immovable.  However, through his work on the Living Standards Framework (LSF) – specifically trying to articulate the way different types of “capital” may exist and impact on any ultimate quality of life objective – has helped to change this impression.  Those nominating Girol were keen to point out that it isn’t just the LSF that has nominated his motivation – but the fact that he is a “proper gentlemen” who gets along with everyone he meets.

Kirdan Lees (NZIER):  This is Kirdan’s debut on NZSE, driven primarily by the popularity of his NZAE paper on the trade-offs faced by Auckland Council when it comes to deciding on whether to allow expansion out, or up.  However, I like to think that Kirdan’s willingness to offer an intelligent and frank assessment of monetary policy is another reason why he has ended up in this competition (see here and here).  Among those nominationing him I’ve also been informed that Kirdan is a poker shark.

Gareth Morgan (Morgan Foundation): Gareth returns to the NZSE centre stage this year, this time representing the Morgan Foundation.  Gareth has written on a huge range of issues over the past three decades and is known predominantly for his provocative style and the ability to make people think.  But for all the fame he’s garnered for his presentations, Gareth is also no slacker as a top quality economist.  His time series econometrics and forecasting work at the Reserve Bank (where he earned his PhD) was exceptional, and he used those skills to found Infometrics and ensure that his presentations were based on solid facts – a focus that continues, and is sometimes downplayed by his detractors, in his most recent work.

Ganesh Nana (BERL): Ganesh also returns to the finals of NZSE this year.  Among analysts Ganesh is best known for his work with CGE (computable general equilibrium) models, a useful modelling technique for ensuring that any cost-benefit policy work we preform includes “general equilibrium” feedback effects.  His work pushing this type of analysis has led to a significant improvement in policy advice.  However, Ganesh has also consulted and lectured on a wide range of other economic issues over recent years, adding to policy debate and forcing us all to more clearly consider the trade-offs we make when introducing certain policies.

Benje Patterson (Infometrics):  My work colleague Benje makes his first appearance on NZSE this year after a stellar year of articles – particularly his open letter to Bill English (also here) which garnered a lot of attention during the nomination round!  However, I have a soft spot for his appeal not to subsidise regional economies – a tough issue to tackle as a Southland boy.  Benje is a phenomenal communicator and writer who has an all consuming passion for economics – every time I walk in the door he’s ready to start discussing some economic issue with me off the bat.

Bill Rosenberg (NZ Council of Trade Unions): Bill is another top economist returning for this year’s NZSE.  Often discussing issues of wage poverty and income inequality before they were cool, it is encouraging to see Bill get nominated in the year when these concepts did become a central part of the policy debate.  A long term proponent of the idea that falling shares of labour income was both occurring in New Zealand, and was fundamentally unfair, Bill straddles the line between economist and advocate in order to help advance ideas he sees as beneficial to the country as a whole.

Stephen Toplis (BNZ): As Head of Research at BNZ, Stephen is responsible for the sizable output of the Bank’s research department – remember that much of the research they do isn’t publicly released, implying that these merely scratch the surface of the issues the BNZ team looks into.  He is well known for being concise, and cutting straight to the point when discussing economic issues – an admirable trait given how many of us ramble on in ridiculously overwrought metaphors.  Stephen bet out stiff competition from other members of the BNZ team to represent the bank in NZSE – a deserved nomination.

Nick Tuffley (ASB): The only economist to make it to the finals of NZSE three years in a row, Nick continues to call on a hard-core of supporters who find his commentary about the New Zealand economy especially insightful – commentary that he has been making as Chief Economist at ASB for eight years.  As I mentioned last year, when I’ve seen Nick speak I seen him speak clearly and without pulling any punches – even if what he’s saying is unpopular with the crowd.  Nick bet out strong challenges by a couple of his colleagues at ASB to ensure that he made the finals again this year.

Marilyn Waring (Auckland University of Technology):  Marilyn deservedly got last year’s NZIER Economics Award, and this year is in the running for NZSE.  Her push to get policy makers, and other economists, to pay attention to “non-market” activities (specifically unpaid work in a household) – at a time when easily quantifiable measures like GDP were treated as bible – was brilliant, and has had a significant impact on the way New Zealand economists consider policy issues today.  However, as a politician and an individual focused on public policy her focus and influence has been much broader than in just economics.  Her role in the 1984 NZ snap election is also spectacular!

Graeme Wheeler (Reserve Bank of New Zealand):  The most powerful economist in New Zealand makes his second appearance on NZSE.  Graeme’s nomination is more than deserved this year, with the introduction of LVR’s, falling unemployment with limited inflationary pressures, and a continuing focus on transparent communication around monetary policy all major economic outcomes that he has been in the centre of.  A common theme among Graeme’s nominations was a strong appreciation of his suits – with his sharp eye for the details of the macroeconomy neatly translating into a sharp eye for good clothing.  Given economists aren’t usually known for their fashion this is a unique gift.

Sharon Zollner (ANZ): Sharon blitzed her ANZ workmates to receive her second consecutive nomination to NZSE.  As a former central banker, and current ANZ economist, Sharon focus is predominately macroeconomics – and broad economic trends.   In this space, her work on the Truck-o-meter has been incredibly valuable to many analysts and journalists, providing a clear and sensible leading indicator of economic activity.

2 replies
  1. Megan
    Megan says:

    I’d love to vote for the super-sexy Geoff Cooper, but the ‘Vote’ button doesn’t seem to be working!

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Oww my I’m so sorry – I went on holiday and didn’t realise that the voting was broken!!!

      It should be fixed now. If there are any problems just yell at me 🙂

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