RSE Commemorates George Fane


The RSE is saddened to announce the passing of Charles George Fane, a Professor of economics here who taught many and made very significant contributions to policy in Australia. Please find below his tribute in the Canberra Times:

His colleague Chris Jones has provided the following recollections of George’s career:

It is difficult for one person to summarise the contribution that George made to the academic literature because he was a scholar of many fields in economics. When I first met him at the ANU he was introduced to me as a macroeconomics/labour economist, but I soon realised that he studied and published more widely; George was a good “old style” economist, and that was encouraged by the time he spent with Ted Sieper. He loved thinking about and understanding economic issues, as was frequently evident by his insightful commentary at seminars and other academic presentations. Together with publications in macroeconomics and labour, George made contributions to the economics of education, applied welfare economics, including cost-benefit analysis, shadow pricing and optimal taxation, and development economics.

Rather than comment on George’s publications, which others are better equipped to do, I want to focus on his attributes as a colleague and friend over many years. It was obvious to those who knew George, he was extremely bright, and had a “blue ribbon” education; completing degrees at Oxford and Harvard Universities. But in my view, his finest attribute was his intuitive understanding of economics. It gave him great instincts for the subject. You could run a proposition by him, which I did on many occasions, and he would, after carefully understanding what you were saying, provide a response that clarified the issue and either supported or refuted it; the latter being more frequent than the former, in my case. Very few people had George’s intuitive understanding.

On many occasions at Departmental seminars, George would ask probing questions and provide very useful feedback that greatly benefited both the presenters and the audience. On one occasion I recall a seminar where an international visitor was presenting a cherished paper. About halfway through the seminar, George encouraged the speaker to think about a core result in the paper using a much simpler model. The initial response was dismissive and suggested George might eventually get the idea by the end of the seminar and should wait until then. At that point I thought, “Oh dear, this guy has made a big mistake”. (A suspicion confirmed by the frown attempting to break through the smile on George’s face.) As was his way, George gently persisted with his question and eventually the speaker understood the point and realised it was a significant dint to the value of his paper. Afterwards the speaker asked me who that guy (George) was and expressed amazement at the insight provided.

At a another Departmental seminar where Avinash Dixit was presenting one of his three papers on insurance and incomplete information, that he eventually published in top economics journals, George provided feedback that resulted in important qualifications being included in the published article. After the seminar, Avinash Dixit asked others who George was and expressed his gratitude for the insights provided.

But George did not confine his assistance to the good and the great. He was incredibly generous with his time. Anyone who asked him for advice would get listened to, and in most cases would find sheets of green paper covered in blue hand writing placed in their mail boxes next morning confirming or reworking their ideas. When Mark Harrison and I first joined the Department as tutors we were helping George when he taught macroeconomics to the Economics 2 class. Each week we would get the tutorial questions for the following week and would spend considerable time working out the answers. On a number of occasions we would have different answers to George’s green sheets and would drop by his office to suggest he might be wrong. Of course, ninety nine percent of the time we were wrong, but on the odd occasion we were correct, George was absolutely delighted and happily informed others. He loved to encourage anyone who was trying to understand economics and would spend a lot of time listening and helping.

That reminds me of the time I spent with George in Yemen over the summer teaching break in 1988/89. I had just completed my PhD and was ready for a break. Out of the blue, he asked me to join him on a study of the manufacturing sector in the Yemen Arab Republic. It was a project funded by a group of international aid agencies. While the trip was a great adventure, the two months I spent with George chatting about a range of issues over dinner each night was a tremendous education for me. Like George, I greatly value having an intuitive understanding of economics. During that period I learned an enormous amount from him, and was able to discuss ideas I had about teaching microeconomics to the Economics 1 class at the beginning of 1989 when we returned. It gave me great confidence to have George listen to the ideas I had, in particular, my desire to give the students an intuitive understanding of economics that would underpin their future studies and careers. His interest and enthusiasm gave me the confidence I needed to undertake that task. And I am sure it would not have been as enjoyable had I not had that time with him in Yemen. I will always be grateful for his generosity to me then, and on many many other occasions.

A great number of other colleagues and students can recount similar stories. George was one in a million, and I am proud to have been a colleague and friend. He had an enormous positive impact on so many people.

Rest in peace George.