The New Zealand Association of Economists is delighted to honour the many distinguished contributions made by Professor Bruce Jerome Ross, CNZM, over his long career as a research economist, policy advisor and chief executive.
Born in Dunedin in 1938, Bruce Ross completed his secondary school education at Otago Boys High School before going to the University of Otago for a year of Medical Intermediate study in 1957.
He then took what today would be called a gap year, gaining practical experience working on farms in 1958, before returning to Lincoln in 1959. Bryan Philpott had just been appointed as the first Professor of Agricultural Economics, and his influence diverted Bruce from his career plans to be a farmer Instead Bruce accepted a position as Philpott’s research assistant and Masters student. He completed his Masters course work in 1962, and then worked for three years as an assistant lecturer and lecturer in agricultural economics and farm management at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He completed his Masters thesis while overseas (Ross, 1965), and returned as a research economist in the AERU research unit (founded by Bryan Philpott) on 1 March 1966.
Bruce enrolled as a PhD student, and began constructing with his supervisor a national input-output model of the New Zealand economy (Philpott and Ross, 1967). This work was redirected when he was seconded to the technical subcommittee of the Targets Committee supporting the National Development Conference (NDC) convened by the government in August 1968 and May 1969. As a consequence, Bruce did not finish his PhD, but found himself working alongside people like Henry Lang (Secretary to the Treasury), Alan Lowe (Governor of the Reserve Bank) and Jim Rowe (CEO of the Bankers Association) as his input-output model became the backbone of the NDC’s projections (Philpott and Ross, 1969; Ross and Philpott, 1968, 1970).
In August 1969, Bryan Philpott announced his resignation from Lincoln to take up the chair in economics at Victoria University of Wellington. Such was the very high esteem for Bruce’s work with the NDC that he was appointed as Philpott’s successor, becoming the Professor of Agricultural Economics at Lincoln College in December 1970, shortly after his 32nd birthday. It was a time of considerable change at the College, which launched a new degree in Agricultural Commerce in 1971, attracting 126 students in its first year. The small commerce faculty worked very hard, with Bruce having up to 18 formal contact hours a week with students across the whole programme. Nevertheless, there was time for research on agricultural economics, including a country report for the OECD (Ross, 1972), a paper on fluctuating export prices in the Journal of Agricultural Economics (Ross, 1976), a textbook on the New Zealand economy (Castle, Ross and Gillion, 1977) and a book chapter on agriculture’s role in trans-Tasman relations (Ross, 1982).
In 1983, Bruce took two years leave to head the Trade Analysis Division of the Agricultural Directorate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. Agricultural protectionism was a very sensitive topic, but the modelling work done within the OECD under Bruce’s direction persuasively showed the extent to which a multilateral reduction in support for agriculture would have a smaller impact on European farmers than a unilateral cut by the European Economic Community. This led to an acceptance that agriculture should be included in the Uruguay Round of GATT, which was a vital step towards the successful outcome of that round. Bruce views on agricultural protectionism from a New Zealand perspective were later summarised in Ross and Sheppard (1990).
Upon his return to New Zealand in 1985, Bruce took up the position of Principal of Lincoln College. The changes experienced by the institution under his leadership over the following 11 years were enormous, including its transformation in 1990 from being a College of the University of Canterbury to being an independent University specialising in agriculture, commerce and resource management. In August 1996, Bruce was appointed to head the Ministry of Agriculture. This was another important transitional period for a nationally important institution. Bruce was given the additional responsibility of Acting Secretary of Forestry in September 1998, and the two Ministries were combined under his leadership to form the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in March 1998.
Bruce has continued to be involved in public service since his retirement in May 2001, serving on important national committees such as the New Zealand Dairy Core Database Access Panel and the Biological Sciences Peer Review Panel in the Performance-Based Research Fund Quality Assessment. He was awarded a Sesquicentennial Medal by the New Zealand Government in 1990 and was appointed Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002.
Castle, L. V., B. J. Ross and C. Gillion (1977) Structure of the New Zealand Economy. Heinemann Educational Books, Auckland.
Philpott, B. P. and B. J. Ross (1967) “Input-Output models for Projecting and Planning the Economy.” AERU Research Report No. 41, Lincoln College.
Philpott, B. P. and B. J. Ross (1969) “The Structure of the New Zealand Economy in 1979.” New Zealand Economic Papers, 3: 15-33.
Ross, B. J. (1965) “Some aspects of the relationship between agriculture and the national economy, with special reference to labour.” Masters of Agricultural Science with Honours Thesis, Lincoln College, University of Canterbury.
Ross, B. J. (1972) ‘The State of Agriculture in New Zealand.’ Consultancy report submitted to the Agricultural Policies Division, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris.
Ross, B. J. (1976) “Fluctuating Export Prices and Economic Instability: Problems and Policies in New Zealand.” Journal of Agricultural Economics, 27(1): 77-96.
Ross, B. J. (1982) “Agriculture’s Role in a Closer Australia – New Zealand Economic Relationship: Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block?” In Robin Burnett and Alan Burnett (Eds), Australia – New Zealand Economic Relations – Issues for the 1980s. Australian National University Press, Canberra, pp 85-91.
Ross, B. J. and B. P. Philpott (1968) “The Interindustry Structure of the New Zealand Economy, 1961-65.” AERU Research Report No. 49, Lincoln College.
Ross, B. J. and B. P. Philpott (1970) “Indicative Economic Planning with a Sixteen-Sector Projection Model of the New Zealand Economy.” Australian Economic Papers, 9(2): 108-126.
Ross, B. J. and R. L. Sheppard (1990) “The Why, How, and Consequences of Agricultural Policies: New Zealand.” In Fred H. Sanderson (Ed.), Agricultural Protectionism in the Industrialised World. Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C., pp 268-315.