Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Last weekend's Applied Economics workshop at the University of Auckland

Earlier this year I got an invite from the MADE (Making A Difference with Economics) group at the University of Auckland, asking would I be a speaker at their second annual Applied Economics workshop. I said yes, and told them I'd like to talk about applying economics to issues of competition and competition policy. Two other invitees said yes, too: Kieran Murray, who co-heads the Sapere Research Group, came along to talk about the practicalities of economic consultancy, and Calum Gunn, chief adviser (regulation) at the Commerce Commission, came to speak about his hand-on experience of regulating electricity distributors.

So we all fronted up last Saturday for what was an impressive day from several perspectives.

First was learning about MADE itself, which was set up in 2010 by Associate Professor Rhema Vaithianathan. You can read the full background on why she set up MADE but in short "The idea behind MADE was to get young people to start learning how to be change agents for economic ideas", and "The potential for economics is immense. It has not reached its potential. Almost every medical researcher I have met thinks their research will ultimately relieve pain and suffering. Yet economics offers so much more in its ability for relieving human suffering. The 40-year difference in life expectancy between Japan and Burkina Faso is economics not medical science".

Second was meeting an interesting and very diverse bunch of students. Much more diverse these days than when I first studied economics: 36 out of the 40 in my first year economics intake in Trinity College Dublin in 1969 were male, a higher proportion even than in such bastions of male dominance as the engineering school. The workshop attendees were a very bright and very enthusiastic group, too: all of them were Stage 3 undergraduates or above, so the questions for the speakers were on the button, and there was high quality discussion throughout the day. And the whole day had been put together very professionally by a working committee of the students themselves.

MADE is a really worthwhile programme. Students can sometimes struggle to connect economics to the 'real world', and initiatives like this one show them how economics actually works to address practical problems as well as (hopefully) transferring some practical expertise and perspectives.

If you're asked to come along and present at one of these workshops, do - you'll enjoy it, all three of us had a great day - and if you feel like volunteering to support the programme at other times, give it a go. I see, for example, that they had Girol Karacaoglu, chief economist at the Treasury, along to speak to them last year. If you're applying economics in your career, you'll find a very receptive audience. Here's the link again if you'd like to help out.

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