How did a farm adviser on “technical and financial matters” become one of New Zealand’s finest academic economists; an economist who has published in top international journals and who has been involved centrally in domestic public policy issues?
Professor Lew Evans worked for five years as a farm adviser with the Department of Agriculture following his BAgrSc degree at Lincoln in the 1960s. After completing his Masters at Lincoln, he took the then relatively unusual step of departing New Zealand to study at a top US department, the University of Wisconsin. There he undertook an MA in Agricultural Economics, followed by an MS and PhD in Economics, in which he gained top honours awards.
Since graduation, he has been based chiefly at Victoria University of Wellington, where he was appointed Professor of Economics in 1988. In 1998 he established the New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation, attached to – but separate from – the university. The ISCR set a new benchmark for independent research organisations in this country. Under Lew Evans’s leadership, ISCR undertook high quality, non-aligned academic research targeted at a particular set of public policy issues. He attracted both private and public sector financial support as well as highly rated researchers.
Research produced by Professor Evans has played a key role in competition policy and in consideration of network economics issues within New Zealand. He has examined issues of competition policy, market dominance, mergers, contract design, performance measurement, investment evaluation, pricing and rental issues. His advice has covered a variety of sectors, including electricity, gas, telecommunications, dairy, railways, health, insurance and road transport.
The aim of ISCR was to conduct work capable both of informing public policy and of being published in reputable journals, thus passing a stern peer review test for quality. That he was successful in achieving the second leg (as well as the first) is apparent from Professor Evans’s publications in the field of “Firms, Markets and Law”. He has authored (or co-authored) 11 journal articles and book chapters in this field alone since 1999, many appearing in top journals of the field – both in economics and in law.
A mark of New Zealand economists, and of New Zealanders generally, is their ability to cover a range of subjects – we tend to be generalists rather than specialists. The publications section of Professor Evans’s CV covers “Finance”, “Econometrics: Theory and Applications”, “New Zealand: General Economics” as well as “Firms, Markets and Law”. In New Zealand terms, he is regarded as a specialist in each of these diverse fields.
I first became aware of Lew as a modeller. He co-supervised Gareth Morgan’s stunningly original PhD modelling thesis, a structural model with explicit dynamic disequlibria. Almost simultaneously, Lew (together with Graeme Wells) was researching and publishing in the then novel (and apparently ‘competing’) field of reduced form vector autoregressive models (VARs). This work built on his joint work with Graeme on causality testing (that had resulted in a paper in Journal of Econometrics as well as New Zealand Economic Papers). Within three years of Sims’ pathbreaking VAR paper, Evans and Wells had published a paper in Economics Letters on new methods of simulating VARs (“push-button” VAR packages were not then available!). They followed this paper with publications in Economic Record and Econometrica. It was extremely rare for any New Zealand economist, let alone one working still within New Zealand, to publish an Econometrica paper.
Across his fields of research, Professor Evans has published in other top-flight journals: Amercian Economic Review, Journal of Economic Literature, International Economic Review, Games and Economic Behaviour, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, Canadian Journal of Economics, International Journal of Industrial Organisation, The Antitrust Bulletin, Journal of Law and Economics, Journal of Regulatory Economics, and Journal of Banking and Finance. He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic Literature and Contemporary Economic Policy, and edited New Zealand Economic Papers from 1987-1989.
Few, if any, domestically-based New Zealand economists can match his prolific and highly-rated output. Yet Professor Evans has, and chooses to have, a low public profile. He is extraordinarily influential in the profession and behind the scenes in relevant policy institutions. He has proved to be an outstanding mentor and superviser for graduate students and younger colleagues. Ultimately, his research is driven by a search for knowledge rather than for some ideological or other purpose.
The pattern for this commendable approach was set in his early days, which takes us back to the question posed at the outset. While still employed as a farm adviser, Lew completed an MAgrSc at Lincoln. There, he studied under Bob Townsley (a PhD graduate from the highly rated Iowa State Agricultural Economics department). Townsley stimulated his student’s interest in, and appreciation of, the application of theory to real world issues. He provided the impetus for the young farm adviser to study for his own PhD.
While studying for his PhD at Wisconsin, Lew Evans was lucky enough to study under Art Goldberger who influenced him heavily. Professor Evans’s description of Goldberger’s qualities perfectly describes his own qualities and approach: “a wonderfully clear lecturer who took his teaching and the ‘pursuit of truth’ in teaching and research very seriously.” Fortunately for New Zealand, we are priveleged to continue to share Professor Evans’s insightful scholarship in all its forms.