I was asked to make a short contribution at the function on 18 December 2019 for Bill who is retiring from director of policy at the NZCTU. He will continue to work on labour issues part-time.
I’ve known Bill for almost 60 years, for I taught him a little maths before being welcomed into his family’s extended friendship. I’ve watched Bill develop as a talented mathematician, do a doctorate in psychometrics, drive trucks and buses, become a senior member of the Canterbury University Computer Services, while playing a significant role in the university teacher’s union and also a key role in the Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa New Zealand. Then, a decade ago, he moved to work for the CTU in Wellington.
I recall that there was some disappointment in the Canterbury economics department that he chose psychometrics for his PhD rather than econometrics, but eventually the economics department attracted him, when he took a degree in economics while he was at the Computer Centre. By then the department had a far more neoliberal approach than in my day and Bill used to discuss with .me how to interpret some of the more extreme things he was taught. I was reminded of Joan Robinson’s thesis that one did economics to find out what economists thought rather than to find out about the economy.
Bill’s scepticism plus, no doubt, what he learned at father Wolf’s knee, well-prepared him for the job of policy director at the CTU. He contributed greatly to its resistance to the neoliberal economic stance of governments although, alas, it has been less successful in turning the beast around.
I add that Bill has also made a useful contribution to the economics profession in Wellington. It is a middle class profession but he has reminded us that there are workers too. Perhaps even more important, he has kept the profession empirically grounded rather than fantasising about a world which hardly exists. Wellington and New Zealand economics has been the better off for having Bill, as indeed was it for having his father.
I am glad he is not so much retiring as moving onto to another stage in an impressive career; the CTU needs him, the economics profession needs him, New Zealand needs him.
Wolf and Ann would be so proud of Bill; so am I.