Thursday, 10 September 2015

Seamus Hogan - NZAE Obituary

I have copied below the obituary for Seamus Hogan that I wrote for the current issue of Asymmetric Information, the NZAE's newsletter. It will eventually also be available here; look for the August 2015 edition.

Seamus Davie Hogan, newly elected President of the New Zealand Association of Economists, died of a brain aneurysm on 17 July, aged 53. He is survived by his wife, Sarah, and their children, Emma, Liam and Flynn.
Seamus was a Canterbury economist. Born and raised in Christchurch, Seamus completed his undergraduate and Honours training in economics at Canterbury in 1985 and there began his doctoral work under Richard Manning. When Manning left to Chair the Economics Department at the State University of New York in Buffalo, Seamus followed him and completed his doctorate in 1989. He then took up an Assistant Professorship at McGill University in Quebec where, with co-author Chris Ragan, he completed a series of papers modelling labour markets. More importantly, he there met Sarah.
Seamus advanced to Associate Professor at McGill before moving to Ottawa. There, Seamus served as Principal Researcher with the Bank of Canada and as a research unit Director with Health Canada, before moving to Canterbury where Seamus took up a Senior Lectureship in 2001.
The Economics Department was then building out of long slump. The Department, from the 1980s through the mid-1990s, had been unable to hire to fill standing vacancies. By 1995, the Department had dropped to seven economists plus two fixed-term appointments. Rebuilding began slowly in 1996. With the hiring of Seamus Hogan and Ken Carlaw in 2001, the Department had grown to twelve, though there had been much turnover. Frank Tay’s history of the Economics Department identifies the Department’s real turning point at 2001, with Les Oxley’s appointment and Headship.
Seamus provided support to Les Oxley’s Headship, and to John Gibson’s subsequent Headship from 2005. Oxley ran the department as a participatory democracy with strong roles for standing committees. Seamus’s long history with the Department, his willingness to provide departmental and university service, and his adept familiarity with the university’s regulatory arcana proved critical to the Department’s strong performance in the 2000s. Seamus spent much time as head of the Teaching Committee before his later term as Head of Department.
With the Department having been able to improve its staffing complement, more mass-market courses could be offered. Seamus helped to ensure the continuation of the rigorous calculus-based intermediate microeconomics offering as the intermediate course was split into honours-bound and majors-oriented streams, and during the subsequent semesterisation of both courses. He also greatly assisted the Department’s navigation through the Faculty’s creation of core requirements in the Commerce degree.
Seamus had been a student during the Department’s lean times in the early 1980s and had maintained connections with the Department during its worse times in the 1990s. He consequently understood the importance of building a strong, collegial environment. In his Headship, he continued the management tradition established by Oxley.
For all of his importance in ensuring a steady and foresighted hand on the Department’s administrative tiller, Seamus will be most remembered at Canterbury for his contributions to the teaching programme. Seamus taught the core calculus-based intermediate microeconomics course during all but two years of his appointment at Canterbury; while he was on sabbatical, his stand-ins, me and Andrea Menclova, knew better than to deviate from the programme that Seamus had established.
Nearly every one of the 50 to 100 students annually taking the calculus-based intermediate microeconomics course was taught by Seamus, and Seamus knew each of them by name. He was more than generous with his time, offering near-compulsory office hours and extensive course and programme advice in addition to lectures and tutorials. Nobody could better help a student best navigate the intricacies of double-degree or double major programmes. And he actively supported the Economic Students’ Association.
Seamus complemented his intermediate microeconomics offering with a graduate-level course in welfare economics which produced a disproportionate number of the junior economists later hired on at the Reserve Bank and Treasury. His graduate elective course was taken by almost every honours student during the years it was offered. Some especially perspicacious honours-bound students who anticipated Seamus’s sabbatical leave would take his graduate offering while in their third year to avoid missing out.
Seamus’s courses embodied what seemed to be at the core of Canterbury economics. It combined a rigorous technical approach with a focus on the economic intuitions underpinning the modelling decisions. That, together with a strong appreciation for the institutions within which markets operate and the moral presuppositions underpinning welfare analysis, built a cohort of students of which Canterbury can be exceedingly proud.
Seamus’s enthusiasm for the students was irrepressible, and was reflected in a College teaching award in 2011. It also played a role in his promotion to Associate Professor. But it is better reflected in the tributes paid him by his students at the memorial website established by his family.[1]
Seamus loved economics and loved teaching economics to others, whether students or colleagues. His interests were broad-ranging. Despite the department’s rather disparate research interests, we all could, and did, seek Seamus’s advice on our papers. Seamus’s lectures invited students to join in the fun inherent in economics. It was impossible to know him and not share in it. When Seamus provided us copies of his exams for proofreading, he was not really looking for error correction – his errors were few. He was inviting us to share in the fun he had created for the students. It was play.
When the external review committee established to re-assess the Department in light of post-earthquake budgetary pressures deemed, in 2014, that Seamus’s intermediate microeconomic offerings were surplus to requirements, it hit Seamus, me, our students, and many of our colleagues very hard. In prior eras, budget constraints were accommodated by restricting course offerings to the core theory fundamental to the training of new economists. This review instead cut core theory while maintaining the less rigorous intermediate path.
Seamus’s last year at Canterbury was not a happy one. I left the Department in July of 2014 to join the New Zealand Initiative, a Wellington-based think-tank. Seamus left the Department at the end of the year and joined me in Wellington, taking up a position as Senior Lecturer in the School of Government. The Economics side of the Department of Economics and Finance at Canterbury currently stands at nine, including two senior tutors. Before the earthquakes, we were twenty.
It is particularly tragic that Seamus’s death came so soon after his family moved to Wellington. Family was always especially important to Seamus, and that he had imposed such a cost on them did not sit well with him. But it is difficult to imagine Seamus existing far from the lecture whiteboard. Seamus’s death came just as the Hogans had re-established themselves after a particularly difficult year.
In policy circles, Seamus was best known for his work in electricity market regulation and for his blogging at Offsetting Behaviour, where he co-blogged with me.[2] Outside of academia, Seamus was best known for his work with his doctoral student Scott Brooker in creating the Winning and Score Predictor, the WASP now well familiar to cricket fans around the world. The WASP emerged from work Seamus and Scott undertook for New Zealand Cricket to improve batting performance.
Seamus was also well known in Christchurch music circles. While a student, Seamus played with the Christchurch Symphony, as both of his parents had. He played violin with the Resonance Ensemble under conductor Mark Hodgkinson. He also served on the board of the Christchurch School of Music to assist during the difficult post-earthquake period.
The economics community will miss Seamus’s commitment to service, to scholarship and to students. The Association has lost its President. And many of us have also lost someone whose quiet advice made us better economists.

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