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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.

For more information contact:

Anthea Black
Reserve Bank of New Zealand
Ph 04 471 3767, 021 222 5225, [email protected]

Event Details

Reserve Bank Museum Exhibition

The Reserve Bank, in association with the New Zealand Portrait Gallery presents:
Bill Phillips: Man, Money and Machine Exhibiton

From: 7 July 2008
Where: Reserve Bank of New Zealand Museum, 2 The Terrace, Wellington

The Museum is open to the public and free of charge.


Markets and Models: Policy Frontiers in the AWH Phillips Tradition Symposium

When: 9-11 July 2008.
Where: Wellington Events Centre

The 2008 Symposium is a collaboration between the annual New Zealand Association of Economists (NZAE) conference and the Econometric Society Australasian Meeting (ESAM). Attracting some of the world's top economists, the symposium will place Phillips' work in the context of the history of economic thought, and will present the latest frontier work on economic theory, modelling and analysis.

Public Lectures

Bill Phillips: Man, Money and Machine

How a unique man built a machine, drew a curve and helped world economics move forward.



In association with The University of Auckland
Business School

When: 14 July 2008

Where: The University of Auckland Business School Owen G Glenn Building, Grafton Road

Time: 6.30pm

Speaker: Dr Alan Bollard

When: 16 July 2008

Where: The New Zealand National Library, Molesworth Street
Time: 5.30pm
Speaker: Dr Alan Bollard

These events are open to the public and free of charge.

Registrations are necessary and seats are limited.