Friday, 18 December 2020

Who would you have picked to run the Productivity Commission?

The National Business Review ($) has a roundup of reactions to Ganesh Nana's appointment as head of the Productivity Commission. It includes some minor comment from me, and you can probably guess what I think about it.

But it also includes this somewhat intriguing bit from Sam Warburton:

Former Treasury Economist Sam Warburton said he could not name an economist in the public realm that would be suitable for the commissioner role at the moment - a comment that spoke to the credibility of the profession, which he said had not been high for the past few years.

Imagine that you're the recruiter tasked by Grant Robertson with finding the right candidate. You want a Commissioner who is a credible economist, who is respected by the profession, who has some profile beyond other economists, who is able to communicate to a broader audience, and who has public sector nous. 

It's a somewhat difficult Venn diagram to construct, and especially if you layer on the obvious political constraint that you can't select someone who's relatively 'dry' on economic issues. 

But it's still hardly an empty set, even if we restrict ourselves to people currently in the country. 

I would have hoped that Arthur Grimes and John McDermott would have been on that list. I don't know whether Arthur would have left Vic for it, or John would have left Motu, but you'd think a recruiter would have called them up to check. Norm Gemmell would have been a great pick, but I'm not sure whether Robertson would have seen him as too dry? 

There are Motu-affiliated folks who've done interesting work in the productivity space. Dave Maré and Richard Fabling in particular. But they haven't done as much public-facing work, so would likely be ruled out on those grounds. 

Tim Maloney at AUT should also have been on any reasonable short-list. He's not just done interesting work on labour markets, he's also served as Chief Economist at the Ministry for Social Development. Rhema Vaithianathan at AUT could also reasonably have made the list, though perhaps a bit further down only because her work is further from core productivity issues. 

Who do you think should have been ahead on the list? Leave out anyone who'd be ruled out as being too dry. Imagine yourself as an honest recruiter for Robertson for the position, knowing full well that folks like my excellent colleague Bryce Wilkinson would never be considered. 

Who would you have called? 

Update: A few additions to the shortlist, via Twitter, and others that have come to mind:

  • Gail Pacheco (via Tony Burton; I'd not considered those currently in at the Commission)
  • Bill Rosenberg (via Mike Reddell; I'd not considered on same basis as Gail)
  • Alan Bollard (via Fran O'Sullivan)
  • Tim Hazeldine
  • Bob Buckle 

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