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Richard Lipsey

SSHRC Gold Medal for Achievement in Research

From revolutionizing the teaching of economics to re-shaping the Canadian economy through free trade, Richard Lipsey may just be the most influential economist in Canada today.

The professor emeritus of Simon Fraser University won the 2005 SSHRC Gold Medal for Achievement in Research for his many contributions to economic research, teaching and policy over the past 50 years.

“I always felt that my work had to have relevance in the real world, or it wasn’t worth doing,” says Lipsey. “And that idea was as much an inspiration for my pure research projects as it was for my teaching and policy work.”

Indeed, one of Lipsey’s most important contributions centres on methodology—specifically how to make economic theories useful in an imperfect world.

His papers on the General Theory of Second Best, the Phillips Curve and a wide range of other topics challenged accepted truths and changed the way economists, policy-makers and business leaders carried out their work.

Over the years, these successes earned Lipsey an Order of Canada, a fellowship in the Econometric Society and nine honorary degrees from Canadian and British universities. But, despite these accolades, he remains most proud of his work in the classroom, mentoring young students into successful careers and writing one of the most influential textbooks of the 20th century.

An Introduction to Positive Economics, first published in 1963, swept away old thinking about economic theory and changed the way the entire profession carried out its work. Translated into 15 languages, Lipsey’s textbook has introduced generations of students to the field of economics.

“It was practically the only textbook used in England for 35 years,” says Lipsey. “Every time I went through customs people would recognize my name and ask if I was really the guy who wrote the book.”

And as much as his work has changed the profession, it has also re-shaped Canadian economic history.

In the early 1980s, Lipsey became senior economic advisor at the C.D. Howe Institute and began what he calls a “long, hard battle” over free trade with the United States. He wrote three books on the subject as well as pamphlets and speeches that helped make free trade Canada’s largest and most controversial policy debate of the past 50 years.

“The free trade debate occupied me for almost eight years,” says Lipsey. “I was doing scholarly work, researching and writing papers on the topic, but I was also doing the dirty stuff—appearing on TV talk shows and debates… It was exhausting.”

Yet, 25 years later, Lipsey still doesn’t show signs of slowing down. The same intellectual curiosity and practicality that inspired his earlier works has now led him to examine the connections between technological change, social transformation and economic growth.

With a new book just published and continuing requests for advice from government departments, Lipsey continues to shape Canada’s economic and intellectual life.