New Zealand’s sexiest economist 2014: Voting

By Matt Nolan 14/02/2014

After an exhaustive nominations round the final 20 New Zealand economists have been selected.  To quote from someone who nominated for this round of “New Zealand’s Sexiest Economist” (NZSE).

At first I thought this was ridiculous.  But thinking about the work New Zealand economists do, I think there are a lot of ‘sexy economists’ ~ Anonymous

I’ll be honest, I’m impressed with the list of economists we ended up with from nominations.  Looking through the list of people who got into the final twenty, and those who missed out, I see a series of names of people who’s work I enjoy.  Sure there are a lot of other economists I’d love to see represented but opportunity cost right!

The poll

Here is the poll.  The top 20 were selected via the quantity of nominations they received.  We had 51 economists nominated, which was pretty exciting!  A lot of the nominations were from other economists, and people were incredibly supportive of the quality of each others work when nominating.  Compared to the partisan ego fights we all publicly see on US and UK economics blogs, this shows that the economics community in New Zealand is incredibly warm and excited by good work.

To help you make an informed decision, below the poll is a profile section.  I am sure that after reading the profile section you will want to vote for all twenty of the candidates, and so below that I’ve included a gallery because … why not!

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

The poll will run until midnight on Saturday March the 1st.

Seriously, what is this?

Last year’s 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 I’m carrying it into a second 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!


Andrew Coleman, University of Otago:  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, Productivity Commission:  Paul is one of the driving forces behind the Productivity Commission and their desire to honestly discuss and communicate the policy trade-offs we face in New Zealand.  In many ways the PC finds itself between a rock and a hard place, as it is expected to provide ‘results’ while also giving an objective appraisal of the impact of policy – it is economists like Paul that ensure that the Commission finds the right balance in the advice it gives to government.

Geoff Cooper, Auckland Council:  Last year one of the main complaints I received about the NZSE poll was the fact that Geoff was not involved.  His tireless efforts in communicating the specific issues that Auckland faces (issues that can be downplayed by those of us based in Wellington) would by themselves be enough to ensure his nomination to this competition.  However, as an economist he provides a lot more than that, with his willingness to offer thoughtful commentary on a range of social issues such as  poverty and inequality.

Jean-Pierre de Raad, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research:  NZIER has always been an important part of the economic landscape.  However, under Jean-Pierre’s watch they have struck an impressive balance between public communication and deep analysis.  Jean-Pierre, through his work at the institute, has helped to significantly improve the quality of policy debate in New Zealand – at a time where society was calling out for rigorous debate.

Kevin Fox, Australian School of Business:  I was introduced to Kevin’s analysis within my workplace at a point in time when I felt comfortable ranting about productivity in New Zealand.  Kevin’s careful analysis of productivity trends and measurement, and specifically his paper comparing NZ to Australian productivity in different ways, were significant additions to our understanding of the New Zealand economic and policy environment.

Darren Gibbs, Deutsche Bank:  Darren was last year’s champion, fighting off stiff competition from a series of other economists.  Every time I hear something from Darren I know it is something I should listen to, his intuition, his experience, and his understanding of the data, make him an extremely strong macroeconomist.  What I have always appreciated with Darren is the fact that, even faced with media pressure, he articulates the conditional and partial way that economic conclusions are formed – it is a skill we should all be jealous of.

John Gibson, Waikato University:  John deserves a place here for the myriad of papers he’s written looking at low income nations and the issues they face.  However, the nominations he received specifically mentioned how much they’ve enjoyed his writing about seasonal workers, and the idea that seasonal work in  New Zealand can be used as a tool to help reduce poverty in the Pacific Islands.  When us bloggers say that we’d like to see/do work on inequality and poverty, we mean that we wish we could see more of (or do) the type of important work John has dedicated himself to!

Chris Green, First New Zealand Capital:  I’ll be honest, in my narrow view of the world Chris Green was someone I had not heard of previously.  However, after a string of nominations arrived I discovered he was involved with the all important RBNZ Survey of Expectations, and that he has been busily discussing trends on both sides of the Tasman.  With a distinct understanding of how monetary policy functions through the BOE and RBNZ, Chris offers an important perspective for discussing monetary policy issues within New Zealand.

Özer Karagedikli, Reserve Bank of New Zealand:  Özer is the type of economist who anyone would feel comfortable discussing macroeconomic questions, but who can also guide analysis and policy to an incredibly deep and technical level.  When I discussed the art of economic communication as being about “peeling back assumptions during a conversation”, I must have implicitly had the ability of Özer in mind.  Having an economist like this that specialises in monetary policy and exchange rates, two areas where communication is key, is very valuable to New Zealand.

Gareth Kiernan, Infometrics:  It is hard to write objectively about Gareth, given he is my boss, work colleague, friend, and someone I have spent the last seven years eagerly learning from.  Gareth’s focus has always been in the building industry, and related macroeconomics – and I am still trying to learn the subtleties of his understanding in these areas.  A key focus of his is on how to clearly communicate these ideas to clients who want to utilise this information for business decision making.  When I have gone to present I have been told “you better be good, because we had Gareth talking to us about these ideas last time, and he was excellent”.

Marie Marconnet, Castalia:  Marie was a Masters student at Victoria at the same time I was.  However, when I was floating around with unimportant hypotheses she was looking at hard data, and trying to analyse real world questions regarding the Pacific Islands.  Over the last seven years she has been employed at Castalia extending and broadening her analysis of developing nations.  When nominating her someone admitted that they’d never met an economist who could articulate and argue real world concepts as clearly as Marie.

Vladimir Petkov, Victoria University of Wellington:  Vladimir was one of the lecturers at Victoria that, through a discussion of classical microeconomics and ‘delegated management’, got me excited about microeconomic ideas.  Vladimir also supervised both James and my Masters theses – as a result, it is largely his fault that this blog exists.  One thing I have to say, although I am not sure that Vladimir would like it, is that for someone who always told me not to worry too much about discussing methodology I swear he has a pretty sophisticated view of methodological ideas.  Otherwise why would two of his masters students blog about methodology so religiously?

Jacques Poot, University of Waikato:  I almost feel that I can’t give Jacques a fair introduction.  He won last year’s NZIER economics award.  His work on population, migration flows, and regional development have been a major driver of the type of analysis at my work place – in fact I can’t think of an economist who is discussed/mentioned more often when we talk about these issues.  Jacques work has been immeasurably important to both current, and likely to future, understanding of the New Zealand economy.

Steve Stillman, University of Otago:  The sheer range of labour market and immigration studies that Steve has been involved in, and their comprehensive nature, is beyond my ability to summarise.  Just take it as read that he has offered an important contribution to the literature in these areas, as that is the case.  What I would like to add is the incredibly enthusiastic and motivated comments I have heard from his students in the past.  Not only does he understand, and offer a strong analysis of, labour market institutions – he motivates others to want to do the same.

Adolf Stroombergen, Infometrics:  Adolf is the Chief Economist at Infometrics, and not a day goes by where the breadth of his knowledge doesn’t amaze me.   Although in his day-to-day work Adolf focuses on CGE style models, he has been known to dabble in a broad range of other strict empirical and heterogeneous agent models when he believes that suits the question at hand.  I have never met an economist who understands, and commits themselves to consulting transparently on the basis of, the idea of “many models” in the same way as Adolf.  And what makes it even more incredible is that he also understand these models deeply – to be fair you would think there would be some sort of trade-off!

Dominick Stephens, Westpac:  Bank economists perform an important role in New Zealand of informing the public under intense pressure.  We are a small country, and it is these guys that are responsible for a lot of economic information.  This is where Dominick is an absolute star – not only is he clear and articulate, but he actually cuts to the heart of specific issues when speaking to the public.  An economist can only be that clear if they truly understand what they are talking about, and Dominick (in fact Westpac as a whole) has always been clear in explaining why they believe certain trends exist.  IMO, he is doing a better job than economist in Australia (but don’t tell economists over there I said that).

Nick Tuffley, ASB:  Nick has always been a straight talker regarding what is really going on in the domestic economy.  My clearest memory of Nick was sitting at one of his presentations, where he was trying to explain just how much of a big deal the seize up in global markets during the GFC was for shipping, and therefore exports.  His prognosis was right, even if it wasn’t popular.  It is those sorts of explanations, and the trust they build in economists, that we really need.

Jane Turner, ASB:  I’ve always been impressed with how quick Jane can turn economic data into a sensible, and justifiable, narrative about what is going on with the New Zealand economy.  It is easy to just say things about data that sound compelling, but Jane’s views are always based on a real understanding of the data and a clear story around what is going on in the macroeconomy.  Either this requires a lot of work, or Jane has a great natural talent.

Zoe Wallis, Kiwibank:  Kiwibank is still a relatively new institution, and like most up-and-coming firms it must seem tempting to be contrarian to get attention (just look at their ads).  However, as an economist at Kiwibank Zoe has refused to go down that path, instead focusing on providing a clear and honest expression of what is going on in the New Zealand economy.  This has worked well as those that nominated her have praised her clear, straight to the point, communication style.

Sharon Zollner, ANZ:  ANZ produces a large number of useful indicators of economic activity, free of charge for the general public.  Sharon’s work and analysis has been a large part of making this available.  I have been told that 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.



Andrew Coleman – University of Otago
Paul Conway – Productivity Commission
Geoff Cooper – Auckland Council
Jean-Pierre de Raad – NZIER
Kevin Fox – Australian Business School
Darren Gibbs – Deutsche Bank
John Gibson – University of Waikato
Chris Green – FNZC
Ozer Karagedikli – RBNZ
Gareth Kiernan – Infometrics
Marie Marconnet – Castalia
Vladimir Petkov – Victoria University of Wellington
Jacques Poot – University of Waikato
Steve Stillman – University of Otago
Adolf Stroombergen – Infometrics
Dominick Stephens – Westpac
Nick Tuffley – ASB
Jane Turner – ASB
Zoe Wallis - Kiwibank
Sharon Zollner – ANZ