MA, PhD (Cambridge), MCom (Melbourne)
(Deceased), 2016-02-14

James Oliver Newton Perkins 1924-2016

Emeritus professor James Oliver Newton (Jim) Perkins died on 14 February 2016.

Jim was born in Bedford, Bedfordshire, England on 11 July 1924. Raised as a Methodist, his great-grandfather William Lee was a prominent primitive Methodist, he was educated at Bedford School and at Saint Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge. Jim’s studies at Cambridge were interrupted by war service in which he saw active duty in Belgium and Germany and was demobilised with the rank of Acting Captain in 1947.

During his studies for his Cambridge PhD thesis written on 'The dollar pooling arrangements of the sterling area', Jim visited the University of Melbourne in 1950-51. This was made possible by his appointment to a position as a research officer in the Faculty of Economics and Commerce at the University of Melbourne. Jim valued this experience very highly and in recent years made an endowment to the University of Melbourne to establish a travelling scholarship to support a student undertaking a PhD in economics of relevance to both the UK and Australia. The first recipient began his studies at the University of Melbourne in September 2015

On completion of his PhD thesis, Jim joined the staff of The Economist and The Banker. This was followed by a return to Australia to take up a research fellowship at the Australian National University for the period 1953 to 1956. In 1957 he was appointed lecturer at the University of Melbourne where he remained for the rest of his life. He was appointed Professor in 1970.

Jim was elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia in 1973 and a Jubilee Fellow in 2015.

His fondness for Australia was not simply because of its membership of the sterling area; in 1955 Jim married Ruth Williams. Ruth held a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Music (Hons) and a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne. She taught senior secondary English and Music, as well as composing music under the name Ruth Bethall. Their daughter Caroline is the Executive Director of the Regional Universities Network. Ruth died in 2013.

As an economist, Jim was mainly concerned with important public policy questions. For many years he pursued tenaciously the implications of the mix of monetary and fiscal policy on inflation and unemployment. This was a central macroeconomic issue in the 1970s and 1980s, when the failure of high rates of unemployment to reduce inflation encouraged Jim to search for alternative methods to control inflationary pressures. Jim pointed out that a given level of aggregate demand could be supported by a range of mixes of fiscal and monetary policy. He argued that a mix of low taxes and high interest rates would be less inflationary. Jim’s emphasis on the fiscal/monetary mix was somewhat unusual in discussions of macroeconomics even though it is of fundamental importance.

More recently Jim focused on how an increase in the level of economic activity can encourage capital inflow. Earlier he was interested in issues of the balance of payments and flexible exchange rates.

His approach in tackling economic issues was to put his argument and then to consider many possible objections. In doing this he made valuable comments on a wide range of topics. Sir John Crawford in reviewing one of Jim’s books in the Economic Record commented on 'the amazing amount of useful ground' that Jim covered.

He entitled one of his books "Billion-Dollar Questions" which was thought by one of his colleagues to be somewhat exaggerated. However, Jim observed that inflation had very soon deflated that criticism.

Jim was an enthusiastic teacher and made important contributions to the development of learning resources for students. At the University of Melbourne he taught a range of subjects including Introductory Macroeconomics, Money and Banking, and for many years he was coordinator of the Honours subject Economic Policy where each Friday morning an invited speaker would address students on topics of current interest. A highlight for the Honours students was the lunch afterwards with the speaker and Jim, where he was always engaging and interested to know what the students thought. Jim’s publications included a textbook on Introductory Macroeconomics for Australia (joint with Robert Jones), and books of immense value to students and practitioners such as his masterly survey of the early 1980s review of banking and finance, The Australian Financial System After the Campbell Committee Report.

In addition to his passion for economics, Jim was devoted to cricket and music. In the days before the big screen, one of his colleagues reported that Jim was seen at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with his portable television so that he could watch the replays. Jim played the piano and clarinet, among other instruments, and sang as a tenor. He and Ruth held musical evenings at home. They had a large collection of musical material (books and scores) which is being bequeathed to the music library at the University of Melbourne.

Jim had a keen sense of humour and loved to recount amusing snippets from things he had read. A memorable example was from a review perhaps by George Bernard Shaw; "Last night the London Philharmonic played Beethoven; Beethoven lost".

Jim composed a number of witty songs, many to the tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan’s music. He performed these songs at a number of functions including his retirement dinner and his farewell to the Academic Board. He collected these songs in his 'The economist’s song book'. The opening verse from 'I am the Very Model of a Modern Macroeconomist' is a fitting way to capture the memory of this remarkable person.

I am the very model of a modern macro economist,

My knowledge of the jargon you would rate as the uncommonest;

I’ve lots of nice equations, both the linear and quadratic;

At testing their significance I’m really a fanatic.

I understand neutrality, I’m hooked on rationality,

And - helped by Sims and Granger - at assessing non-causality;

I cite with much facility Ricardian equivalence –

But as to its validity my views have much ambivalence.

I love to put in dummies, and I’m really quite fantastic

at saying whether series are chaotic or stochastic

In short, in all my utterances jargon use is commonest;

I am the very model of a modern macro economist

Ian McDonald (with the help of Caroline Perkins, Jeff Borland, Joe Isaac and Ross Williams)

University of Melbourne

Emeritus Professor (Economics), University of Melbourne.

  • J.O.N.Perkins (2000) The Reform of Macroeconomic Policy. Basingstoke, England: Macmillan Press.
  • J.O.N. Perkins (1998) The Wallis Report and the Australian Financial System. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
  • J.O.N. Perkins (1997) Budget Deficits and Macroeconomic Policy. London: Macmillan.
  • J.O.N. Perkins (1990) A General Approach to Macroeconomic Policy. London: The Macmillan Press.