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Hogan, Warren Patrick (1929–2009)

by Malcolm Brown

Warren Hogan, who was professor of economics at Sydney University for a tumultuous 30 years, was a traditionalist who believed that economics was meant to focus on how to make maximum use of finite resources.

Working chiefly in the area of financial economics and banking, he was also concerned with the theory of economic growth – manna to businesses and corporate shareholders. But his term began at a time of social upheaval, at a time when the Vietnam War was raging and traditional values were being challenged across the board. One of the challenges was to the notion that academic economics had nothing much to do with sociological and political factors.

He was nothing if not a fighter. He believed that ''quantitative rigour'' was the foundation for solving real world problems, rather than sociological and political factors. He wanted to produce economists who would help the corporate world and government. Statistics, spread sheets and mathematics featured prominently in his thinking. In the end, he was not able to resist the overwhelming demands for a change of focus and his economics department was split.

Warren Pat Hogan was born on April 3, 1929 in Papakura, New Zealand, son of a railway employee, Patrick Hogan, and Ivy Kate (nee Saunders). After New Plymouth Boys High, Hogan enrolled in arts at Auckland University, completing a BA in economics in 1950 and an MA in 1952. That year he also married Ialene Stretton.

He spent three years, 1952 to 1955, with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, then became a research student at the Australian National University, completing his PhD in 1959, when he had started work as a lecturer at the University of Newcastle. In 1963, at the age of 35, he became professor of economics and in 1965 dean of the university's faculty of economics and commerce.

Hogan took up his appointment at the University of Sydney in 1968. A colleague, Colin Simkin, who had been professor of economics at Auckland University, joined soon after. With Simkin, Hogan devised a course that directed students on what he saw as the key issues. Warren Bird, fund manager for Colonial First State, said, decades later, ''Professor Hogan taught us that statistics can mislead and a good economist looks hard for evidence of how things really are rather than how they appear to be. I've carried that with me through my career.''

Glenn Stevens, the present governor of the Reserve Bank, said: ''One very practical bit of work concerning statistics, and their use (and misuse), and one of his more memorable papers of the late 1970s was called, if my memory is correct, 'How do we know where we're going, when we don't know where we've been, let alone where we are?' It was about revisions to the national accounts/GDP data, there being some revisions which changed what we thought was fact about the course of the economy quite a bit.''

But the implementation of the Hogan/Simkin course was seen by some as heavy-handed. It antagonised staff, some of whom had a ruinous falling-out. Students protested it was too theoretical and unrealistic. Economists Ted Wheelwright and Frank Stilwell, both destined to become prominent, led the opposition.

Hogan, renowned for his office clutter, was always busy. In 1971 he served on the staff of the World Bank. He became a member of the NSW Education Committee for the Higher School Certificate. But the conflict within the department did not go away.

There was a ''day of protest'' in 1973 and a ''day of outrage'' in 1974. While Hogan served two terms as NSW president of the Economics Society of Australia and New Zealand, as well as with the Australian Population and Immigration Council and the Australian Manufacturing Council, the university dispute deepened. Various proposals were put by such bodies as the university's professorial board to resolve the impasse. The vice-chancellor, Bruce Williams, took Hogan's side. In a dramatic escalation, students occupied the vice-chancellor's offices and 4000 students boycotted classes. The political economy ''activists'' did make headway and eventually were able to establish their own autonomous department.

In 1986 Hogan became a director of Westpac Banking Corporation, and helped it through tumultuous financial straits. With fellow director Peter Baillieu, he stood up to Kerry Packer and Packer's sidekick, Al ''Chainsaw'' Dunlap, when Packer made a bid to take control of the bank. Edna Carew in her tell-all book, Westpac: The Bank that Broke the Bank, paid tribute to Hogan's steady hand.

Hogan had other directorships, including the AMP and Australian Guarantee Corporation. In the late 1950s his work on economic growth identified some helpful computational errors in the work of an American economist, Robert Solow, who went on to win the 1987 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. Hogan worked in Pakistan for a period as a consultant to the Harvard University Advisory Service and with the World Bank in Washington DC. He published over his career more than 150 journal articles and chapters in books, and an even larger number of shorter publications and papers. He was author of a book, The Incredible Eurodollar, which dealt with international financing and debt issues and their implications for foreign exchange.

In 1998 Hogan became an adjunct professor in the School of Finance and Economics at the University of Technology, Sydney. An adviser over the years to Opposition treasury spokesmen Phil Lynch and John Howard, he continued to advise Howard when he became prime minister. Hogan retired from his position at Westpac in 2001 and in September 2002 reviewed pricing arrangements in residential aged care. It heralded a cultural shift, advocating a more market-oriented approach in keeping with his philosophy.

He is survived by Ialene, children Sandra, Kerry, Lindsay (senior economist with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics), Alan, Warren (chief economist with ANZ Bank), nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 January 2010

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hogan, Warren Patrick (1929–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hogan-warren-patrick-16916/text28804, accessed 21 September 2017.

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