Five minutes with…Tim Harcourt, the airport economist

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He is the latest expert member of the Fair Work Commission’s superannuation panel after the removal of two members due to perceived conflicts of interest, but globetrotter Tim Harcourt is also a sports-mad economist and author of six books on international economy. He tells Wealth Professional about his influences and past times.
Why economics?
I am fascinated with how the Australian economy integrates with the world economy. As “the airport economist” I have been to 58 economies over the past 5 years and everyone asks me about the Australian ‘miracle’ economy including our super system. When I was at Adelaide Uni in the early 1980s, it was very different. Australia was closed, protected and didn’t have much to show for the resources boom. Then Hawke and Keating floated the Australian dollar, reduced tariffs and Australia went from “Down Under to down wonder”
How would you sum up Australian economists in three words?
Practical, evidence based, interested in Asia.
How would you change the Australian economy?
The books Why Nations Fail from MIT/Harvard and Why Australia Prospered have really influenced me. They show that Australia has actually done very well by developing strong institutions. We have done this by balancing property rights and our entrepreneurial spirit the right to ‘have a go’ with democratic rights and social justice the right to the fair go. Australia needs to update our institutions as the world changes so we can absorb external shocks in the global economy.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Do what you are really interested in and the financial side will look after itself. It was advice former US Secretary of State George Shulz was given by his father.
What’s the most important thing an individual can do to develop their business?
Have strong values, integrity and always think about the brand and how they and their business are perceived.
If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would you do?
I’d make Adam Goodes my key adviser, John Moriarty the Governor General of an independent Australia, I’d give DFAT and Austrade more funding and have a Minister for Enterprise in Cabinet to raise the profile of entrepreneurs. I’d sign an innovation and investment agreement with Israel, appoint Australia’s first female trade and investment minister and personally thank every Australian – whether convict or free settler, indigenous or immigrant for their contribution to our nation. And I’d set up more people ties with Asia Latin America and emerging markets beyond economic diplomacy.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the economy today?
I think we can handle the demographics affecting our budget if we explain the importance of rights and responsibilities to the community. Same with climate change and productivity. And let’s talk not about “the ageing problem” but “the asset of wisdom” so senior Australians are valued as part of the solution not the “problem”.
NRL, AFL, soccer or other?
All of the above! I have played rugby union for Randwick on TV, I barrack for the Sydney Roosters in rugby league and have done talks at the World Cup with Les Murray and Craig Foster. And I grew up a North Adelaide Roosters supporter in Adelaide so I watch the South Australian AFL teams and the Swans and am on David Koch (“Kochie”) Port Adelaide advisory group in Sydney. I am working with the AFL on a new book on the economics of sport (Footynomics) and help them with international engagement.
What’s your favourite drink?
After the film Sideways, its pinot noir! From South Australia (Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale), Central Otago, Victoria and Tasmania.
If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Judith Lucy, Kathy Lette and Isabelle Allende. Because I love writers, Latin America and really funny people. I’d ask Barry Humphries too if you gave me a fourth.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t in economics, I would be… 
A lawyer or a professional cartoonist.