Stuart Birks elected NZAE Life Member

Stuart BirksIt is with great pleasure the Association honours Stuart Birks with the award of life membership of the NZ Association of Economists. Stuart arrived at Massey University in 1978, after a stint working in Israeli kibbutzims. He had a BA (Hons) from Essex and an Msc from London. A specialist in mathematical economics and econometrics, having studied under stalwarts like Michio Morishima, Amartya Sen, Frank Hahn, Meghnad Desai and William Gorman, among others, Stuart started increasingly to feel uneasy about the usefulness of the accepted methods and beliefs of economics generally and quantitative economics in particular. He switched to economic policy instead, using the tools of economic theory in a critical manner.

Stuart has taught economic theory and public policy at Massey for almost 35 years – his past students include many current members of the Association. He has made valuable research contributions and has been an active member of the Association. In making this award we wish to honour Stuart for his service to the profession and the Association in particular. Stuart’s contributions to the Association have been of high quality and quantity over a sustained period.

Stuart’s contributions to the Association and the wider New Zealand Economics community include (but are not restricted to) the following:

While Stuart was not the first editor of the Association newsletter, Asymmetric Information, he did take over the editorship from Nancy Devlin only eighteen months later in November 1999. He has been the stalwart of this newsletter since then. Initially he co-edited with Gary Buurman, and then solely since November 2004 until the end of 2011. During his tenure he has, at various times, written significant content, twisted arms to build up the stable of regular contributors, moved to the professional colour format we all enjoyed and ensured plenty of food for thought, debate and controversy – all exactly what the newsletter was designed to do.

He has provided service and leadership to the Association by serving as Council Member from 1999 until 2011.

He and a steady stream of students and some colleagues have examined a range of social, political economic and, increasingly, legal issues of contemporary NZ. Many of these have been published, either in printed or internet versions. The Massey department supported his idea to have a dedicated research centre, known as the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, to operate as a forum to address policy issues of relevance to NZ. The late Gary Buurman was his most enthusiastic research partner in this, as in many other ventures. A very wide range of topics from higher education, economic inequality and poverty to gender issues, family court and the legal aspects of marriage, divorce and shared child-care has come to form the basis of the Centre’s on-going research agenda, most of them bearing Stuart’s name as a contributor.

A team of colleagues from around Massey University and elsewhere in NZ collaborated in bringing out, in the late 1980s, a comprehensive collection of chapters examining different areas of the NZ economy. The NZ Economy: Issues and Policies (Palmerston North: Dunmore press) was co-edited by Stuart and his colleague Srikanta Chatterjee. The book had gone through four editions between 1987 and 2000 before a change of ownership of its publishers stopped a fifth edition going forward.

Stuart has, in recent years, come to study the connections between the law and economics in a societal context. After several disparate publications in the area, he decided to embark on a unified study examining the methods of the two disciplines to shed light on their mutual compatibility or otherwise in policy contexts. This has resulted in a doctoral thesis, which he successfully defended in late 2010.

Outside of his academic interests, Stuart is a keen swimmer, a chef in several distinct culinary traditions, an active Rotarian and a critical observer of political and social events around the world.

The Association honours Stuart for his economic citizenship and has pleasure in awarding him life membership of the Association.

June 2011