BobFest

Yesterday featured a rather unusual event – a day-long celebration of the career of economics professor Bob Gregory, who headed the economics program at ANU RSSS from 1987-2005, served on the Reserve Bank Board from 1985-95, and since 1969 has contributed to most of the serious debates in Australian labour economics. Bob isn’t retiring, but has made such an extraordinary contribution to economics and policy that this event was put together.

As the person seated next to me put it, it felt like the Oscars of Australian economics (I guess that makes it the Logies), featuring our most-cited economists (John Quiggin, Simon Grant), three departmental secretaries (Ken Henry, Peter Boxall, Jeff Harmer), two former departmental secretaries (Ted Evans, Mike Keating),* and the nation’s most economically literate MP, Craig Emerson (who the ALP is currently keeping on the backbench, since it’s performing so well on economics without him).

Much of the discussion at the conference focussed on the Gregory presentation method, which is to be enthusiastic, confident, have a simple message that overturns conventional wisdom and show a catchy graph that sums up the message. The dinner turned more to his foibles – being perpetually late, boarding the wrong plane by mistake, accidentally forgetting Nugget Coombs. The multitalented John Quiggin and Geoff Brennan both sang ditties to Bob (John’s lyrics are here), and the evening was capped off by a video in which Kerry O’Brien asked Bob questions, and embarassing answers were then spliced in from old 7.30 Report interviews that Bob had done.

Of course, the whole thing is terribly dangerous for a young Australian economist, since for most of us, trying to follow the Gregory example in a profession that values US publications above all else would result in never getting a promotion. But it’s tempting nonetheless…

* This posting originally omitted to mention Ken Henry, Ted Evans and Mike Keating. Thanks to DG for the correction.

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