SNAPE, Richard Hal. BCom (Melbourne), PhD (London). 1978. Panel B.
(Deceased)
Economics
1978

Professor Richard Hal Snape, FASSA, was one of Australia’s most distinguished economists. He contributed to the profession at the highest level in just about every way possible. Richard stood squarely in the great tradition of Australian political economy. If Australia has a distinctive style in economics, it is the capacity to draw on the best theoretical and empirical work that the international profession can offer, and to adapt and apply this body of knowledge to pressing economic and social issues facing policy makers. Richard was an exemplar of this tradition in his work, both in Australia and (like Max Corden and others before him) in the highest international forums. His career spanned a very long and productive period in academia, spent almost entirely at Monash University, several periods in international organizations such as UNCTAD, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank, and a long association with major Australian policy institutions, especially with the Productivity Commission and its predecessors, the Industry Commission, the Industries Assistance Commission and the Tariff Board.

Richard was born in Melbourne on 9 December 1936. He grew up in Ivanhoe and attended Wesley College (the starting point for the education of more than a few great Australian economists) and then, following the advice of his father, he entered the University of Melbourne in 1954 to study Commerce. At Melbourne, Richard discovered that he both liked and had a talent for economics. He gained his BCom with First Class Honours in 1958 and then, after a period as a tutor at Melbourne, he headed to the London School of Economics for graduate studies through a Kilmany Scholarship and Leverhulme Studentship in 1960.

Richard’s PhD research was supervised by Basil Yamey. His thesis, ‘Protection and Stabilisation in the World Sugar Industry’, was completed in two years. It was a superior piece of work which led to publication in major journals such as Economica and Oxford Economic Papers and was, at the time, regarded as a definitive work on protection in agriculture, so much so that one of the world’s leading economists of the day, Professor Harry Johnson, published an article (also in Economica) specifically stimulated by Richard’s work.1

In many ways, this work set the scene for Richard’s career. First, it was a careful piece of applied work in international economics, the field in which most of Richard’s work was to follow. Second, the issue was policy driven – it carefully examined how the extent of protection in the world sugar market reduced economic welfare by reducing consumption possibilities, and distorted trade between the developed world and developing countries and, in so doing, reduced the ability of low-cost, largely underdeveloped countries to export.

These are ‘big picture’ issues and they really matter to welfare. Influencing thinking and policy on such issues really can make a difference to welfare and living standards around the world. Richard’s work throughout his career was, for the most part, directed at the big issues – trade policy, the design and performance of international institutions that govern the conditions under which international trade and investment occur, exchange rate policy and the interaction of international policy in trade and payments with domestic policy – wages, industry structure and industry regulation.

Richard joined the relatively new Department of Economics at Monash University in August 1962 and was to remain on the staff at Monash until he left permanently in 1999. He was one of a remarkable group of economists assembled by Donald Cochrane at Monash in the 1960s and 1970s, a group which was to make the Economics Department one of the leading economics departments in the country and put it on the world map. A large part of this success was due to Richard’s scholarship, enthusiasm and vision. Richard rose from Lecturer to Professor and, on eventually leaving Monash, he was appointed an Emeritus Professor of the University. His impact at Monash was felt in all areas of academic work. He taught at every level, coordinated the honours program for many years, and influenced thousands of students.

Richard was a gifted teacher. Some of the stimulation gained from his teaching can be gleaned from the engrossing 1994 international TV program – The Global Economy – for which he was a principal advisor and designer, as well as a key on-camera expert commentator. As a teacher, Richard’s style was not that of the showman, but rather the voice of demonstrated authority. Not only did he convey the power of the ideas that he was presenting, but also the excitement of the process of developing them through current research. He knew personally many of the people whose work his students were studying. It was the sort of thing that is truly inspiring for neophytes. Richard’s students include many who went on to influential roles in international organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, in the Commonwealth and State public service, in business and in academia.

At Monash, Richard published some 10 books and 65 articles in refereed professional journals or as chapters in books. Many of the papers were published in the top journals of the profession. Of particular importance were articles in the mid-1970s, published either alone or with Garry Purcell, that became important contributions to what became known as ‘the new international economics.’ This strand of theory emphasised the role of economies of scale and monopolistic competition and, interestingly, led Richard to conclude that at least in theory, the argument for free trade was a complex one. It is worth noting that this theoretical work derived directly from Tariff Board work on the Australian petrochemical industry. While at Monash, Richard became known as a leading international economist. His reputation enabled him to bring to Monash many of the top researchers in the field, among them Harry Johnson, Ron Jones and Anne Krueger. His vision, shared with Donald Cochrane, Fred Gruen, Alan Powell and others at Monash, was to build a strong teaching and research department with the capacity for advanced graduate studies. Teaching staff in the rapidly growing Australian university system were at a premium in those days, especially in economics, which was gaining in popularity, and international visitors added immensely to the teaching program. As well as leading scholars in international economics, Monash hosted such distinguished people as Colin Clark, Bob Clower, Lawrence Klein, Joan Robinson, Arnold Zellner and many others. In no small part this was this due to the influence of Richard Snape.

As well, Richard contributed to his Department as Chair (four terms), to the Faculty of Economics and Politics as Dean and Associate Dean, and to the University through committee work at the highest levels (including a term on the University’s Council). It is no exaggeration to say that Richard was a pillar of the intellectual structure that made Monash Economics in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s one of the finest university economics departments that Australia has ever had.

Richard’s scholarship and standing in the economics profession was recognised nationally in 1978 with his election as a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Internationally, his reputation saw him in demand as a visiting Professor at such distinguished centres as the Institute for International Economic Studies at the University of Stockholm, the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and the Stockholm School of Economics. Throughout his career, Richard continued to be in high demand as an editorial board member for a number of international journals and book series and a member of advisory boards for a number of international and Australian academic research and teaching centres and institutes.

However, Richards’s distinguished contribution to the profession was not only in the academic sphere. He made a major contribution to public policy, both internationally and, in this country, through a number of key appointments to major policy institutions.

As a specialist in international trade and the economics of protection, it was natural that Richard Snape would choose to make his first significant foray into the policy arena at the Tariff Board. Richard was among a group of young academics, including Max Corden, Fred Gruen, Alan Powell and Garry Purcell, who in the mid-1960s helped the Tariff Board, under its new Chair GA (Alf) Rattigan, develop a more rigorous economic framework for tariff-making. Bill Carmichael, who played a key role at the Tariff Board in bringing this external expertise to bear, recalls Richard taking the lead in organising a joint letter from academics to the newspapers, supporting the Tariff Board in its attempts to broaden its reporting in the face of staunch opposition from the Government. This is an early example of what a number of Richard’s colleagues have identified as his concern not just for academic rigour, but to use his analytical skills to help produce practical results; and to stand up publicly and be counted.

Richard’s next major foray into public policy required him to take leave from his academic duties in 1973–1974 to be on the Priorities Review Staff (PRS) under the Whitlam Government. The PRS was an institutional innovation designed to bring fresh analytical insights to policy development for the benefit of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Richard took responsibility within the PRS for trade and assistance policy, anti-competitive regulation and energy policy. The reports of the PRS were highly influential on public debate and policy outcomes during its short life. Its reports on industry regulation and adjustment policy are still influential today.

In the late 1970s, under a different Government, Richard Snape was appointed to the Treasurer’s Panel of Economists and then to the Treasurer’s Economic Advisory Group. Ian McFarlane, Governor of the Reserve Bank has recounted the opinion of a previous Treasury Secretary that Richard’s contribution at that time to the debate on the relationship between real wages and unemployment, while not widely recognised, was in fact ‘more valuable than anyone else’s’. In subsequent years, Richard returned to the Tariff Board’s successor, the Industries Assistance Commission, as a consultant, often on complex conceptual issues. Perhaps the standout contribution in this respect was a 1985 consultancy for the IAC that he undertook with Gary Sampson, developing a framework for analysing barriers to international trade in services. This work soon reached an international audience and eventually became the foundation on which the General Agreement on Trade in Services was built during the Uruguay Round.

As a consultant, Richard upheld the finest traditions of academic independence. He always delivered what he believed to be sound advice, not merely what his sponsor may have wanted to hear. Thus in the mid-1980s, when the Trade Minister of the day was seeking to justify a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Richard produced a robust but inconvenient report, making it plain that such a course would not necessarily be economically beneficial. (Since then, other consultancies have been enlisted on this matter now that it is prominent again on the policy agenda, but Richard’s original work is still referred to.)

In this period, Richard Snape also made his mark at a number of international institutions. He held a number of senior appointments at the World Bank, UNCTAD and the World Trade Organisation. Of particular note was his period as the editor of The World Bank Economic Review and The World Bank Research Observer in the late 1980s, where he established a degree of rigour and relevance to these journals that made them highly influential in international and development economics. No doubt his period as editor of the Economic Record in the late 1970s and early 1980s provided him with the essential skills for this task.

More recently, in the late 1990s, Richard also made an important direct contribution to the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as a member of an eminent international panel reviewing aspects of India’s import protection regime. Garry Purcell has observed:

Richard was the only economist on the panel and he contributed in key ways to the carefully reasoned findings against the Indian Government’s position … which were welcomed by domestic supporters of trade liberalisation in India … and established a very important precedent on this issue at the WTO.

These appointments and contributions to the major international policy institutions won him, and thereby the Australian economics profession, a considerable reputation for insightful and relevant policy analysis and advice on major policy issues in international trade and payments. His contribution continued the remarkable reputation that Australian economists have in the area of international economics, a tradition that began, perhaps, with the authors of the Brigden Report, continued with Sir Roland Wilson (who first developed the small open economy model that became known as ‘the Australian Model’), Wilfred Salter, Murray Kemp, Max Corden, Peter Lloyd and others, and which continues to this day.

The final stage of Richard Snape’s career was at the Industry Commission and its successor, the Productivity Commission. Richard was appointed to the then Industry Commission in 1995 as an Associate Commissioner. His initial role was that of research leader and mentor, but he soon became active and expert in all aspects of the Commission’s work. As a result, he was appointed Commissioner in the Productivity Commission in 1998, and subsequently he was made its Deputy Chairman. Richard initially worked on public inquiries and research with atrade policy or industry assistance orientation. His knowledge in that area, together with his capacity to grasp the essentials of an argument and to understand the circumstances and motivation of ‘interested parties’, are all reflected in the quality of the reports on these early inquiries, one of which has become a model internationally for how WTO ‘safeguard’ investigations should be conducted.

In the next few years, Richard headed key national inquiries into important areas of public policy outside the traditional industry assistance domain. These included reports to government on the regulation of international air services, broadcasting, telecommunications (as supporting Commissioner) and airports. Richard brought his analytical rigour to each of those reports, as well as an appreciation not only of the potential costs of market power, but also of the limits of regulation in achieving better outcomes. His reports Price Regulation of Airport Services and Broadcasting have been particularly influential.

His work with colleagues at the Productivity Commission is an outstanding example of the sensible and rigorous application of theoretical and empirical economics to policy, often leading to policy recommendations that give no easy target to ideologues from either the left or the right.

All the while during his policy career, Richard maintained his scholarly publishing, contributing almost as extensively to the literature when outside academia as he did when he was a full-time academic. Finally, there was Richard’s considerable contribution to the Economic Society of Australia. He served on the Committee of the Victorian Branch for numerous terms, including a term as President and was made an Honorary Life Member of that Branch. He was a Giblin Lecturer and a member and Chair of the Publications Committee. Importantly, Richard was a distinguished and respected joint editor (with Peter Lloyd) of the Society’s major journal the Economic Record for 5 years between 1977 and 1982.

During that period, the Record went from strength to strength, reestablishing a timely publication schedule and building on its reputation as a first-class economics publication. Richard was responsible for making all the production arrangements for the journal as well as sharing the editorial role. Peter Lloyd testifies personally that in this work, Richard ‘did a magnificent job in the service of the Society.’

These are but some of the achievements of Richard Hal Snape. The esteem with which he is held by the profession and the respect that his colleagues have for Richard can, however, be ascertained by the numerous letters of support that were received as part of his nomination as the Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia in 2002.2 They came from leaders in the profession in Australia – in academia, public policy and government – and from distinguished members of the international profession. These letters speak for themselves. One of the major themes that comes through these letters is Richard’s gentlemanliness. Although Richard was relentless in academic debate in arguing his case, he was always unfailingly polite and never maintained a grudge about a position taken.

A second major theme that emerges from the comments of his colleagues in these letters is, in the words of Jonathon Pincus, his ‘moral clarity.’ Richard had a clear idea about why he did what he did. Last year, at a lunch in Perth, just before he became very weak from his illness, Richard commented on why he took economics so seriously – it was because he wanted to ‘make a difference.’ The difference he wished to make and has clearly made through his teaching, research and policy work was to enable the achievement of a better society with a higher standard of living. Rigorous economic analysis, allied to the promotion of an informed debate about the costs and benefits of reform would, Richard believed, do some good. To Richard’s students, there is no finer reason to try to follow in his footsteps. By achieving the Economic Society’s Distinguished Fellow award, Richard won, as Glenn Withers observes, the ultimate accolade: the applause of his peers.

Finally, Richard won the appreciation of his country by being awarded posthumously in April of 2003 a Centenary Medal for service to policy development in the field of international trade.

Richard Snape died in Melbourne on 4 October 2002. He is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and his three adult children, Fiona, Matthew and Richard and to his great joy, a growing number of grandchildren.

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Peter Kenyon

This obituary is based on the citation for Richard Snape’s selection as a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia published in the Economic Record, 79, June 2002: 159-164. I would like to thank my co-authors, Mr Gary Banks and Professor Ken Clements, for permission to draw heavily on this citation.

  1. Johnson, HG (1966). ‘Sugar Protectionism and the Export Earnings of LessDeveloped Countries: Variations on a Theme by RH Snape’, Economica, 33, 129, February: 34–42.
  2. In putting together Richard Snape’s nomination for the Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia for 2002, the nominators received letters from a great many of his colleagues. These letters gave Richard a great deal of pleasure during his difficult last days. In writing the article upon which this obituary is based, its authors drew extensively on these letters. The letters can be accessed at the Productivity Commission’s Library.