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Economist Wolfgang Rosenberg leaves huge legacy

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health,
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education,
Minister Responsible for Public Trust

Progressive Leader


19 February 2007 Press release
Economist Wolfgang Rosenberg leaves huge legacy

“I mark with considerable regret and a great sense of loss, news of the passing of the Christchurch economic thinker and academic Wolfgang Rosenberg,” said M P for Wigram and Progressive leader Jim Anderton said today.

“‘Woofy’, as he was affectionately known to family and close friends was one of our unsung heroes. He was probably best known to generations of Canterbury University students as an inspirational and stimulating teacher of economics, not a subject that often inspires that sort of enthusiasm. In that role he was not afraid to go against the orthodox or the powerful and publicly crossed swords with Prime Minister Robert Muldoon on more than one occasion.

"During the nineteen eighties and nineties in particular, when many of his professional colleagues were enthusiastic for, or muted their criticism of the prevailing belief in the market as the cure all of New Zealand's problems, he was not afraid to speak and publish against the prevailing current.

"Wolfgang Rosenberg maintained that economic policies with policy goals of full employment, an expansionary fiscal stance and a high level of government intervention were more in New Zealand's broader interests than the new right agenda pursued by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson in their respective parties and governments. And he had the satisfaction in my view, of being proved right.

"It is an indication of his intellectual integrity and level of understanding that his major books have stood the test of time and continue to be relevant, when the writings of his then opponents have gone into oblivion.

"Wolfgang's books The Magic Square (1986) and New Zealand Can be Different and Better (1993) were crucial books when I formed the NewLabour Party with key commitments to a full employment economy, regional and industry development and a partnership approach between government and our key sectors.

"That Wolfgang Rosenberg's courage was exemplary almost goes without saying. Born in Berlin in 1915 he came to adulthood at a time when being a socialist and Jewish was a dangerous and life threatening combination. Eventually he was forced to leave his homeland and settle in New Zealand. He faced with optimism and determination the prospect of making a new life in what must have been, initially, a very strange land.

“But Wolf Rosenberg was not just satisfied to make a distinguished career in academic economics which earned him the CNZM in 2000 for services to both his profession and to tertiary education. All his life he was active in liberal and left wing causes. For example, he was founder secretary of the New Zealand Monthly Review and a lifelong member of the Canterbury Council for Civil Liberties. In all of these endeavours, he was supported by his wife Anne.

"Even in retirement he couldn’t stay still, but went on to qualify as a barrister and practised on behalf of the disadvantaged in his adopted city of Christchurch until he was obliged by failing health to take a second retirement in 1999 at the age of 84. The rest of us can only hope for such vigour.

“He was an early environmentalist, long before this became a fashionable cause, and was often to be seen riding his bicycle around Christchurch long after others of his age would have given it up for the relative comfort of a car. In his passing, Christchurch loses one of its most rounded citizens, whose sprightly approach and readiness to engage in intellectual debate added considerably to the life of the city. He will be greatly missed by his legions of friends and admirers," Jim Anderton said.

ENDS

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