Remembering David Hale, a great economist (1951-2015)

The American global economist David Hale is perhaps best known in Australia for causing its dollar to suddenly drop by a few cents in 2000, following some critical comments he made about the local economy. The reason he could exert such a powerful impact on the currency was because Hale was no ordinary economist.

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He was one of the most influential economists in the world, and moved in stratospheric circles of power and influence. He advised US presidents on economic security policy, met frequently with heads of state and central bankers, and was a highly regarded adviser to Fortune 500 companies. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious William F. Butler Award for economics (other recipients include Alan Greenspan and Paul Volker), and he was a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

David Hale also had a deep affection for Australia, and was a frequent visitor to the Prime Minister’s Lodge in Canberra and various government ministries. He also knew a lot more about our country than many of its inhabitants.

I recall that some years ago, after visiting a gold mine in Kalgoorlie with David and some colleagues, he ushered us into the bar of the Kalgoorlie Palace Hotel and explained how one of America’s presidents, Herbert C. Hoover, had fallen for a local bar girl and wrote her a poem, which now hung on the wall.

David then recited this poem by heart, as if it was perfectly normal for a visiting American economist to be able to do this. He had an extraordinary mind, a retentive memory (almost photographic), and was capable of astonishingly astute insights, which he delivered candidly without fear or favour. His work ethic was legendary.

At one of his public presentations in Sydney and Melbourne – which were invariably sold out – he explained that while in London recently he had a few hours to kill so he visited the Bank of England library, where he forensically pored through some arcane documents from the 1850s, which had obviously given him great delight. For David, a visit to Madame Tussauds or a London bus tour was out of the question. His leisure was his work.

David Hale was born in St Johnsbury, Vermont on November 22, 1951, one of five sons to Richard and Jeanne Hale. He went to St Johnsbury Academy then took a BSc degree in international economic affairs from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and an MSc in economic history from the London School of Economics.

During the 1990s, David worked as the global economist for Scudder Investments in New York, and subsequently at Zurich Financial Services. In 2004 he established his own consultancy, David Hale Global Economics, with the support of his wife, Lyric (nee Hughes), an entrepreneur and foreign policy analyst.

Together, David and Lyric made a formidable team and crisscrossed the world to build their booming consultancy business. They coauthored many influential articles for publications such as Foreign Affairs, and co-wrote the book What’s Next: unconventional wisdom on the future of the world economy (2013).

David strengthened his ties to Australia by becoming the global economist for the Commonwealth Bank, and was a familiar face on local television, particularly the ABC. Interviewers lapped up his rapid-fire answers, which made him highly suited for tight program schedules.

He also delivered keynote addresses on issues that affect Australia’s long-term strategic interests, such as his 2014 presentation to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on the Australia-China relationship.

Indeed, Hale foresaw the rise of China and the reemergence of ‘‘the great game’’ of shifting power relationships, well before most of his peers. He saw economic growth as a byproduct of the human spirit, and believed that Australia’s true potential lay in capitalising on its social and intellectual capital, rather than being too dependent on commodities. No doubt, he would have welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s focus on innovation.

When David passed away on 19 October 2015 in Chicago, the world lost one of its most astute economic thinkers, and Australia lost a good friend.

David is survived by Lyric and children Jennie, Harmony, Devin, Erin and Aria and granddaughter Cadence.

By Mark Roeder, a friend and work colleague of David Hale

This obituary was first published in the Australian Financial Review on 29 November 2015 and in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 February 2016.