Jubilee Fellow – 2021

Professor Yew-Kwang Ng

BCom (Nanyang), PhD (Sydney)

Discipline: Economics

Year Elected: 1981

2021 Reflections

A mentor of mine, Professor Max Corden, an ASSA Jubilee fellow, named his autobiography: Lucky Boy in the Lucky Country (Springer 2018). I may not be as lucky. However, for those born around 1942 in Malaysia (Malaya then), I must be one of the very lucky one.

First, I am ‘privileged’ to be able to spend eight instead of six years in primary schools, a privilege very few could match. Failing one of the three important subjects (English; the other two are Chinese and Maths) too seriously (below 45, while 60 was the passing mark), I had to repeat both Year 2 and Year 3. I likely benefited from this in building my foundation well and able to top the class (of about 40+ students) from the second time in Year 3 until Year 2 in high school. After that, I slipped to being the 3rd best in class, as I spent most time engaging in left-wing student activities from Year 3 in high school. I am glad to mention this ‘privilege’ if only to show parents that even a twice repeating student may make it to a PhD and ASSA Jubilee fellowship.

Second, I was lucky enough to publish a self-authored paper in one of the top 5 economics journal (Journal of Political Economy) in 1965 while an undergraduate without supervision. This allowed me to skip doing my master degree and went straight to doing a PhD, saving back the two extra years I spent in primary school.

Third, I was lucky to be able to marry my high-school sweetheart (Siang Ng) soon after my first degree. She has provided much love and care for me from then until now, significantly contributing to my success in my academic career and hence early election to the ASSA fellowship, and to my health to survive another 40 years to make the Jubilee fellowship.

Fourth, apart from my ASSA fellowship, I was bestowed the top honour of the Economic Society of Australia – elected a distinguished fellow in 2007.  Prof. Corden, together with Prof. Peter Forsyth and Dr. Christis Tombazos wrote a piece summarizing my contributions in economics in Economic Record, June 2008.

Fifth, I was born with so much curiosity (thanks to my parents) as to pursue many topics of interest and get published in refereed journals in diverse areas including artificial intelligence, biology (including animal welfare), cosmology, economics, future studies, informatics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and sociology (mainly happiness studies).

Sixth, I was lucky to get lectureships and professorships (including visiting ones) at various universities (especially Monash University at which I worked over 1974-2012, becoming an emeritus professor after that) and hence being able to do research I was interested in and taught many students some of whom become my colleagues and friends.

Seventh, I am still healthy and hence expect to be lucky enough to live until 100 when I have an appointment with my students in the Sino-American Economics Training Center for our second reunion in 2042. The first reunion was held on 30 Sept. 2009, with 20 students of the class in 1992 of 40 attending. In that reunion, we extended the potential membership for the next reunion to all my students. I could do only 20 push-ups in one go at the age of 20; now I can do 79. This number equals my age. So, in the 2042 reunion, I was expected to demonstrate doing 100! Haha!

Luck is not everything. We cannot rely on it. My advice to young aspirants consists of three points: relevancy/importance, interest, capability. You should choose to work on: 1. Something that is of some importance for finding truth or for improving live/society/policy; 2. Something you are interested in, preferably one that you can enjoy working on it; 3. Something within your capability to get some useful results. If you are like me with only 1.6 meter in height, do not aspire to become a basketball champion!

You see, God is fair, or at least not too unfair. I may be lucky in some aspects, but I am not only short in height, I am a terrible learner in swimming. After my fellow child learners being able to swim out to the deep sea, I could not even float. I never dare to go to waters deeper than my breast! Also, after half a century of drinking, I cannot tell the differences between expensive and cheap wines. I also cannot tell good tea from bad tea. I can only tell the difference between tea and coffee. Haha!