The time for economists is now

Why Australia needs economists more than ever.

Danielle Wood

Danielle Wood is a woman on the rise. As one of Australia’s sharpest economic minds, she is playing a key role in steering policy during one of the biggest economic issues of our generation: the COVID-19 pandemic. Danielle is President of the Australian Economic Society and CEO of the Grattan Institute, the brains trust that helps solve major Australian economic issues. The Melbourne mother has often returned to her South Australian home to visit family, present at conferences and inspire school students to study her chosen field.

"One of the biggest challenges our profession faces is that the number of students studying economics in high school has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years."Danielle Wood

Danielle studied economics in high school and decided a career in the field would be the best way to use her analytical skills to make a difference in the world. She credits her high school teacher as a big influence, encouraging her to pursue economics at university. Danielle fell in love with the language of policy and considered it the best way to get in there and have an influence on big decisions during one.

“When I was back in Adelaide, I went to my old high school and spoke to students. It was great to show them the cool things you can do with an economics degree,” she said.

Danielle Wood

One of the biggest challenges our profession faces is that the number of students studying economics in high school has fallen dramatically in the last 20 years. The number of people, particularly women, graduating with an economics degree or major has also fallen. We really want to get the message out that it is a fascinating area to study and there are lots of interesting pathways you can take.”

The global pandemic has seen Australia experience its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and with this, economists will be in high demand to help us map our way out. From Danielle’s perspective, “how quickly we recover from this economic shock will depend on keeping the health situation under control and the government’s appetite for policies that will help rebuild consumer and business confidence”.

“The Reserve Bank expects unemployment to climb to 10 per cent by the end of the year and still be above 8 per cent by the end of 2021. That’s too high for too long. I would like to see a commitment to significant stimulus by Commonwealth and State governments with a focus on job creation and delivering long-term social value,” Danielle said.

“Shovel-ready investments like building social housing make a lot of sense. But this is not just a tradie recession. The services sector bore the brunt of the initial hit, with job losses especially acute for women and young people. There is a strong case for spending on government services: mental health, aged care, and childcare should be top of the list.”

Danielle Wood

Danielle also says governments need to think creatively about how to rebuild demand in hard-hit sectors like hospitality and tourism, and “government-backed voucher and discount schemes are a good place to start”.

“The Northern Territory and Tasmania have launched time-limited vouchers for spending on local tourism. The UK’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which provides government-funded discounts for dining on Monday-Wednesday nights, increased restaurant spending by a third. I would love to see something similar done in Australia,” Danielle said.

"How quickly we recover from this economic shock will depend on keeping the health situation under control and the government’s appetite for policies that will help rebuild consumer and business confidence."

Despite the challenges that 2020 has already thrown at the community, Danielle remains optimistic about the future. She hopes when Australia comes out the other side of the pandemic, we will rebuild the economy quickly to avoid a lot of people being out of work for significant periods. She is looking forward to continuing to build on her role as CEO of the Grattan Institute and will help the government rebuild the economy.

“This crisis is an opportunity to understand the economy. As awful as it is, it is also an opportunity to be talking to students about financial problems, encouraging students to learn more about economics and be attracting the smartest minds to help solve future financial issues,” said Danielle.

Story by Kimberley Hoile
Photos by Meaghan Coles

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