The men who made the ‘Golden Era’; Western to honour David Laidler and Michael Parkin

October 24, 2016
David Laider and Michael Parkin are renowned for their work studying inflation and central banking

For the Department of Economics, the 1980s has been called the “Golden Era”. On Friday, October 28, two faculty members who played a prominent role in creating that era, David Laidler and Michael Parkin, will receive honorary degrees as part of Western University’s 308th Convocation.

Laidler and Parkin came to Western in 1975. The pair had been colleagues since October 1966 at the University of Essex and the University of Manchester. Facing a bad economic situation, universities in the United Kingdom were in a period of restraint. When Western offered both positions, the pair made the move.

“Western was building its economics department. Clark (Leith) and Grant (Reuber) put together an attractive package. It was too good to say no to,” said Parkin. “It was a very strong department, but was quite small. It had room to grow and did indeed grow over the next few years.”

Laidler and Parkin worked together studying inflation, with their definitive work, “Inflation - A Survey" being published in The Economic Journal, December 1975. Their research was a study of wage and price controls, the traditional methods used to hold inflaction in check. It proved that wage and price controls were ineffective, but that what did affect inflation was the quantity of money available in the system, which was controlled by central banks. In the 1990s, policies adopted by central bankers around the world were directly in line with what Laidler and Parkin recommended in their work.

After coming to Western, Laidler and Parkin's research interests diverged, but they continued to work closely in other areas, jointly teaching the macroeconomics program and serving on PhD committees together.

Graduates from this era include many people with key roles in the Bank of Canada, including Governor Stephen Poloz (MA '79, PhD '82), Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins (MA '88), Deputy Governor Timothy Lane (PhD '83), and former Senior Deputy Governor Tiff Macklem (MA '84, PhD '89). This influence extends around the world, including former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia Glenn Stevens (MA '85).

While Laidler would like to think he played a role in shaping these students, he said “When you’re dealing with good students, they are kind of easy to teach. They know how to teach themselves and think for themselves.”

Parkin is similarly humble. “We had a good reputation that attracted those students to come to Western; they interacted with each other, bounced off each other,” he said. “You create a good environment and it self-reinforces.”

By the 1980s, the Economics Department was ranked number one in Canada with an internationally recognized research output. The Department was a powerhouse of research and teaching in the fields of macroeconomics, monetary economics and international economics.

Laidler and Parkin were surprised by the honorary degree. “I’m very honoured, a little embarrassed in a way,” said Parkin. “I don’t think I deserve it, but I’m flattered and honoured to be recognized.”

Laidler is grateful to be honored with Parkin. “It’s just wonderful to be honored with him; it’s as it should be,” he said. “If they offered me an honorary degree without Michael being as well, I don’t think I would have accepted.”

The work of Laidler and Parkin continues to have an impact in the Department. In May 2016, the Faculty of Social Science received a $2 million donation to establish the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Chair in Central Banking in the Department of Economics.

“I was really surprised and delighted when I heard about that Chair,” said Parkin. “It will be a difficult Chair to fill. It’s a vital topic and there are not too many people that are obviously available with skills and record necessary for it, but I’m sure we’ll find somebody.”

“It’s great, and in part recognition of the Department’s work,” said Laidler. “I’m very pleased I contributed to early bits of that work, and that others have continued the work.”

Read more about the 308th Convocaiton