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Bill Phillips: Man, Money and Machine

2 July 2008 Time

Bill Phillips: Man, Money and Machine

AWH (Bill) Phillips was a remarkable Kiwi economist and 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of his most famous creation, the Phillips Curve.

Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said that Dr Phillips' influential 1958 paper on the relationship between inflation and unemployment, catapulted him to prominence as one of the most significant economists of the mid-20th century. Phillips himself regarded his article (a "wet weekend's bit of work") as of only passing interest. Nevertheless, it led to a re-shaping of macroeconomic policy for decades.

"Bill Phillips led a remarkable life," Dr Bollard said. He was born in 1914 on a farm in New Zealand. He had an adventurous youth, travelling through Australia (where he ran an outback movie theatre and was a crocodile hunter).

Phillips trained as an electrician. However, his civilian life was interrupted by the Second World War, and he was captured and held as a Japanese prisoner of war. Unlike many of his cohorts, he survived; he features in the book Night of the New Moon (on which the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie, was based).

Arriving in London after the war, he attended classes at the London School of Economics (LSE). Dr Bollard said that despite a rather undistinguished degree in sociology, Phillips was invited to study for a post-graduate degree in economics. "Phillips was fascinated with the interactions of sectors across the economy."

Using his engineering knowledge, Phillips built a hydraulic model of the economy called the MONIAC. Today, only a few of the hydraulic models he built survive, including one located at the Reserve Bank Museum.

Phillips left London after the 1968 student riots and returned to Australasia, holding posts first at Australian National University and then at University of Auckland. Phillips died in 1975, aged just 61. "However his legacy in many fields lives on," Dr Bollard concluded.

Events being held in July 2008 to celebrate the life and work of Bill Phillips include a large international symposium attracting some of the world's top economists, two public lectures held in Auckland and Wellington, and a Reserve Bank Museum exhibition.

Register now to attend a public lecture highlighting the life and work of Bill Phillips. html


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