Roger Kerr 1945 – 2011

A service to honour Roger’s life was held on Thursday 3 November at 2.30pm at Old St Paul’s in Wellington. 

A selection of public tributes to Roger:

Mary Kissel, Wall Street Journal’s Political Diary

Roger Kerr: An Appreciation by Richard A Epstein

George Mason University professor and Marginal Revolution blogger Tyler Cowen

Prime Minister John Key

The New Zealand Green Party

ACT New Zealand leader Don Brash

New Zealand Herald business columnist Fran O’Sullivan


Cactus Kate

Whale Oil


Stephen Franks

You can share your own tributes and memories of Roger in the comments.



60 thoughts on “Roger Kerr 1945 – 2011

  1. Roger Kerr – RIP
    Today I learned that Roger Kerr of the New Zealand Business Roundtable passed away after suffering for some months with incurable cancer.

    We first made contact in 1997 in Wellington when I was campaigning in support of reforming the producer board monopolies. As was the BRT. Roger called my office and offered me access to the resources of his office. We met the morning the select committee opened its considerations of submissions on the Bill sponsored by John Luxton.

    My submissions concentrated on the indifference paid to Maori farmers – those primary beef and cattle farmers who collectively were paying almost 8 million dollars a year in levies to a mono-cultural organisation that had ignored them for years.

    The NZBRT supported our initiatives and within months the producer boards were reformed and Maori producers were the winners.

    Roger Kerr was the driver for his organisation – and his energy and support during those hostile months were paramount to our success. I learned and drew from his energy and took every opportunity to learn more about business and management.

    During our many meetings over the next few years he maintained that energy and dedication and would urge me to think alternatively to better understand and to strengthen my arguments and proposals. He always afforded me the greatest courtesy and it was a pleasure to sit and talk with him about life and changing demographics of our country.

    For the past months and almost daily I have been in receipt of his blogs on economic theory and other publications. And I continued to learn from him. And those blogs and their messages and debates will remain part of my library to review and to re-read at leisure.

    After hearing of his illness I wrote and expressed my sadness of his condition. Never one for sympathy Roger talked about refusing to fold his tent and fade away – but alas – that has now occurred.

    My condolences to Catherine and their respective families.

    Thank you Roger. Fair winds and following seas.

  2. Hi,

    I’m sure plenty will pay tribute to Roger the economist. I wanted to honour him from a different angle – as a friend of his son Richard.

    I spent quite a bit of my teenage years in the Kerr household visiting Richard. I always found Roger to be very welcoming to me as a house guest (he really did have that smile you see in the photos most of the time). This must have been tested on occasion as he often found me with my head stuffed half way into his fridge.

    I can also say that the evidence of his dedication to his work was there to see in the home office. I can remember playing games on an early Apple Mac surrounded by what must have been the research behind his well known publications.

    Though those days are long gone the memories remain.

    I guess Roger will be missed for many reasons.

  3. Roger was an inspiration to us all. We remember his superhuman enthusiasm, his boundless energy, his keen intellect, his self-deprecating humor, and his courage in the face of death. Roger believed in the power of ideas to change the world, and he put that belief into practice. He made the world a better place, and he will be greatly missed by his friends and fans around the world.

    Cathy Buchanan & Peter Hartley

    • Roger is without a doubt an example of how one person can make a real difference. He will be remembered in the history books. He was an exceptionally nice guy as well, a true scholar and gentleman.

  4. Pingback: Roger Kerr funeral | Kiwiblog

  5. John Milton’s Lycidas came to mind when I heard that Roger had died. It was a lament for a friend who in 1637 drowned in a shipwreck and its first verse is this.

    YET once more, O ye Laurels, and once more
    Ye Myrtles brown, with Ivy never-sear,
    I com to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
    And with forc’d fingers rude,
    Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. 5
    Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
    Compels me to disturb your season due:
    For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime
    Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer:
    Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew 10
    Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
    He must not flote upon his watry bear
    Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
    Without the meed of som melodious tear.

    Whilst literally Roger was no longer young and whilst we knew that it was only a matter of time, nevertheless when placed in context this and other parts of the poem are apt.
    The flow of publications continued right up until a few hours before his death. His last blog on savings and the current account deficit demonstrated his usual acuity and clarity of thought. His death abruptly stopped the flow and in that sense, like the death of Lycidas in the shipwreck, this was a sudden ending.

    Alas! what boots it with uncessant care
    To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade, 65
    And strictly meditate the thankles Muse,
    Were it not better don as others use,
    To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
    Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
    Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise 70
    (That last infirmity of Noble mind)
    To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
    But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
    And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
    Comes the blind Fury with th’abhorrèd shears, 75
    And slits the thin spun life. But not the praise,
    Phoebus repli’d, and touch’d my trembling ears;
    Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
    Nor in the glistering foil
    Set off to th’world, nor in broad rumour lies, 80
    But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
    And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
    As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
    Of so much fame in Heav’n expect thy meed.

    Roger was the epitome of the clear spirit and the noble mind. He lived laborious days. His commitment to communicating what he knew needed to be conveyed was his first priority. His output was immense and profound. Those of us who knew him well have lost a great friend. New Zealand has lost a remarkable New Zealander. His writings will remain a lasting tribute to a life dedicated to the betterment of us all.

  6. Roger Kerr was arguably the most energetic and powerful thinker on economic, social and political reforms across Australasia.
    When the time came in 1994 to award a Tasman Medal for contributions to economic reform Roger was the automatic choice of all who were asked their advice.
    Roger and his former Treasury colleagues and later NZ Business Roundtable associates crossed the Tasman on many occasions starting in the 1980s allegedly to visit the new and established think tanks and pick up ideas and build arguments and agendas for NZ reform. But invariably Roger Kerr himself ended up lifting standards wherever he touched the debate, publishing outstanding papers, and seeking out thought leaders capable of lifting the policy process. Roger created a community of like-minded colleagues who stood for principled reform in NZ and beyond. He made a huge difference to any topic he touched. He made sure the best minds across the globe addressed their thoughts to NZ challenges.
    The resulting institutional changes and benefits of resulting reforms in New Zealand were clear; he became a human benchmark of principle and execution in all reform and economic agenda setting.
    Absent Roger, the 1980s and 1990s on both sides of the Tasman would have been far less exciting.
    Let’s hope his example will inspire a resurgence on both sides of the Tasman, where champions of real reform are even more sorely missed following his untimely departure.

  7. Roger – you were an inspiration to me and many more. Your critical thinking founded on strong principles delivered insight, wisdom and a foundation for us all to leverage off. Your lack of pretense allowed you to endure at times, focused personal attack from groups that chose slogans over debate particularly in the mid ’80’s to mid 90’s period. Your ability to give them the Kerr smile as you enthusiastically debated the issues will remain with me forever.
    Travel well our friend.
    Paul Hendry

  8. One of life’s blessings was to know you.
    Gentle, kind and unfailingly patient you quietly provided inspiration, encouragement and rational thought when they were needed most.

  9. As so often happens after someone’s passing, the tributes reveal a great deal about their character and contribution. I knew Roger only a little, mostly through his support of the annual Plain English Awards. I remember him as gracious, kind, and supportive, with a warm smile and a keen willingness to get behind our cause. To be remembered as someone who actively made the world a better place is a great tribute indeed.

  10. A true gentleman, gone too soon. Thank you for all you have done for the NZ business community and the nation. Your passing is difficult to understand but your memory will remain. Roger’s sense of humour, often at himself, was legendary – you too are our own legendy Roger.


  11. We have lost a great New Zealander who relentlessly pursued the ideals of making New Zealand a better place through his passion for excellence and the intellectual rigour he brought to bear with his public policy analysis and prescriptions. I believe the influence he had on the economic overhaul of New Zealand in the eighties saved New Zealand from becoming a South Pacific version of Greece. There is still have much to be done if New Zealnd is to prosper, in the areas of Education, Innovation, and Productivity all of which Roger’s policy contributions sought to enhance. I look back fondly on my time as his Chairman of the NZBRT, he taught me a lot and beneath that quiet demeanour was a man with a great sense of humour, a love of life, a caring nature, a twinkle in his eye, a quick smile and an endearing laugh. Catherine a treasure lost too soon. Vale Roger.

  12. From one of your Aussie mates. Roger and I worked together over a long time, when I was at Flinders University and then afterwards. I was the Aussie rep on Don Brash’s 2025 Taskforce, thanks to Roger’s suggestion to the government. Apart from the value of the work of the Taskforce, I was given the opportunity of catching up with Roger again in Wellington. I recall those times with great affection and joy.

    And, of course, one of the most amazing things about Roger was how unchanged he was over the years – full of enthusiasm for the principles of freedom and markets; always keen to debate the latest issue; never deterred by dumb politicians and a less than receptive public. His energy and love of life were so infectious.

    In more recent times, I also met his adored Catherine. What a pair – complete soul mates, just perfect for each other. I saw the way Catherine supported Roger on their trip this year to Coolum, where Roger’s contribution was recognised by the Centre for Independent Studies. Just so strong and so loving. I send Catherine my deepest possible sympathies for her loss.

    I just hope all Roger’s friends can remember him for the absolutely top guy he was. I know I will.


  13. Such sad news for Catherine, for Wellington, for the Business Round table – for New Zealand!

    Roger was such a clear thinker, such a good writer, and such a contributor to economic policy in New Zealand; its hard to think of moving forward without his views and comments to guide and influence us.

    Peter Dengate Thrush

  14. Every now and again the DNA really gets it right. Roger you were one of those rare moments. Farewell to a wonderful person,

  15. Very sad to hear Roger lost his long running battle with cancer. NZ has lost one of our most intelligent pragmatists: a man with vision, a strong sense of justice and a sensible political watchdog for all parties on the practical economics of how to get NZ right. RIP Roger.

  16. Roger was one of New Zealand’s greatest sons. A man of phenomenal intelligence, with the highest integrity and always motivated by a desire to see our country thrive. He was the most loyal friend and devoted husband…..Catherine truly put the sparkle in his eyes. With love and deepest sympathy. A mighty Totara has fallen. Diane Foreman

  17. Roger was the most relentlessly upbeat optimist I have ever met–plus a totally selfless,clear-thinking passionate advocate for all that could make this country be the best it could be. How rare–& how irreplaceable.

  18. Michael Bassett

    New Zealand has produced few public intellectuals with a capacity to challenge careless, or out-of-date economic thinking. Roger Kerr was one of those rare people. He didn’t use a megaphone, let alone a brass band; his was the voice of quiet, but fearless reason. He could be tough in his criticism, or generous with his praise. He was a voracious reader, and he produced an enormous body of work during his life – everything from Treasury papers in the 1970s and 1980s, newspaper columns over 25 years, submissions on proposed legislation, and comments on official statements. They were widely read. Even those who didn’t like his advice usually knew in their hearts that he was right. His expressions of opinion were appreciated for their frankness, and for their principled underpinning. He was endlessly available to explain some point, or to direct one to an article or comment on an issue of special interest. Sadly, discussion about New Zealand’s political economy is not likely to be the same without such an amazing human resource.

  19. With the death of Roger Kerr New Zealand has lost one of the world’s most effective advocates of the liberal, free, open and fair society, and of economic and personal liberty. Kerr ran NZ’s Business Roundtable from times when NZ was well along the road to becoming an economic basket case, possibly even something like today’s Greece. Under his directorship, far from being the usual self-serving business lobby, the Roundtable was a consistent and highly effective advocate for New Zealand’s national interest. It published arguments that were of such exceptional quality, consistency and caution that they also appreciably influenced debate in Australia and probably further a field.

    I found Roger charming, generous and erudite but I leave his personal qualities to others who were closer to him. It is sufficient here to assert that he contributed greatly to the type of nation one should want one’s grandchildren to inherit and appreciably to that type of world. Indeed he was among the world’s wisest and most effective public policy advocates.

    John Hyde
    Mannkal Foundation Board Member

  20. As others have observed, Roger was a mentor to all committed to improve the quality of public policy–on both sides of the Tasman. And a wonderful friend.

  21. Roger had so many incredible qualities. The one that stood out for me was his courage. He was resolute even when others were afraid to support his stance and his reasoning. It was not that he did not care what others thought but rather that he was brave enough to speak what he believed to be the truth no matter what the rest of the world thought. We have lost a mighty warrior.

  22. Goodbye Roger,
    Travel well with best wishes from your classmates, Waimea College, Richmond, Nelson 1957 -1962.
    Maureen Cooper Milne, Sue Boys Lewis, Robbie Doran, Roger Nicholson, Karen Overton.

  23. Doug Myers always has a clear-eyed view of the world, and he was exactly right when he described Roger as a “national treasure”.

    I can always remember Muldoon telling me that his fondest wish was that he would leave New Zealand in a better state than he found it on entering politics.

    That is certainly a tribute that can be paid to Roger: New Zealand is a better place since the inauguration of the Business Roundtable and the many initiatives introduced as a result of Roger’s intelligent dedication and persistence.

    I am sure his colleagues collectively will ensure the continuation of the revolution that Roger inspired.

    Moe mai e rangatira nui! Haere, haere, haere.

    Terry Dunleavy
    New Zealand Climate Science Coalition

  24. I faced the wrath of Federated Farmers Dairy section plus the Dairy Board when Malcolm and I organised for Roger to speak to the Sharemilkers Conference in the late 1980s. We felt that here was a man who had another way of looking at our industry and we needed to listen to him. I’m glad we did for he was thoughtfull in the way he discussed the industry and made us think in another way. While we didnt always agree Roger was instrumental in making many people change their thinking. His questioning of what was made us in those days think of the what could be. Thank you Roger for being you. To Rogers family our condolences. Penny and Malcolm Webster

  25. It has been a privilege to know Roger and benefit from his economic thought and enthusiasm for policies to benefit all New Zealanders. Roger lived and worked with integrity and leaves us with a great legacy and inspiration.

    Ian Kuperus

  26. Roger’s total and tireless dedication to the cause of individual freedom, for all that he tried to downplay it with his charming modesty and self-deprecation, set a standard that we had to emulate even if we could not often match it.

    It was a privilege to know and work with him, and his splendid achievement will for ever inspire us.

    Michael James

  27. We have lost a great New Zealander, ambitious for his country and dedicated to the power of ideas. When confronted with a difficult public policy isssue, It is not surprising how useful it is to ask yourself, “what would Roger say?”

  28. I’ve already made an “official comment” in my capacity as the leader of the ACT Party, but let me also comment as a private individual, one who met Roger first almost 30 years ago. I well remember being a member of the Business Roundtable for a short time, when I was CEO of Trust Bank. Roger was bombarded by other CEOs who were worried that the pace of reform was too fast (this was 1986-88). Roger never seemed to be concerned by these attacks, and always quietly and confidently explained why the problem was not excessive speed but, if anything, the reverse – and in particular that the reform process was a bit uneven. I never saw him lose his temper, or become flustered. He often helped my own thinking greatly, and was never afraid of telling me clearly when he thought I was wrong! A quite extraordinary man and a great patriot, whose death leaves an enormous hole for Catherine, his wider family, and New Zealand.

  29. Roger was without doubt the most inspirational person I worked with during my professional career. Prodigious, courteous, incisive, friendly, effective, generous, clear thinking, enthusiastic, rigorous, humble – are just some of the descriptions that come to mind. Others have spoken of a national treasure or the single most important person in the country in terms of consistent policy making. I agree and would add the old fashioned word ‘hero’, for that is what he represented to me.
    I first met Roger at a conference in Canberra in the late 1980s; shortly afterwards he invited me to assess the state of port reform in New Zealand. Later assignments for me or colleagues followed – on producer boards, shipping, education and teacher unions, tourism, minimum wages and so on. From time to time, Roger asked me to deliver speeches in New Zealand or draft speeches for him in Australia, always a pleasure. Regularly, he would ask me to chase up some new Australian report or angle, or ask my opinion of a fellow countryman who wanted to take up some of his time. Equally, he was always willing to dig out information that I was after – the most recent just two months ago.
    A highlight was in 2003 when he asked me to speak and offer some organisational perspectives at a Business Roundtable retreat (at Alan Gibbs’ farm) and at a time when there was internal discussion about a possible change of tack or more effort on ‘communications’ or a softening in message. I decided on a tongue-in-cheek approach to make the point of how effective the Business Roundtable continued to be, despite the criticism it was receiving from the government of the day. I also sounded out others for their assessment, and this is what one Australian colleague said:
    “Why is the Business Roundtable effective? Because of its exceptional rigour and even more exceptional integrity in small things as well as big. It has not only never allowed business interests to compromise its advocacy for the wider New Zealand national interest, but has gone out of its way to mount the arguments against sectional business privileges. It presents arguments in terms not only of efficiency — which can be lost on the uninitiated — but also of morality — for which there is a much wider listening public. Time and again Australian public policy advocates have turned to the Business Roundtable for instruction. Compromise this integrity even partially, and the Business Roundtable would become just another selfish business lobby”.

    I marvelled at how Roger maintained his output and his optimism over such a lengthy period. And massive as his published output was – submissions, speeches, and press articles, not to mention the guiding and editing of every Business Roundtable commissioned report – he also had time to encourage like-minded people, especially if young, and engage in extensive behind-the-scenes discussions with all and sundry.
    He also had time for holidaying, and organised a Milford Track walk for Jeanne and me and several friends. That presented several days to interact with Roger on a range of topical issues. He was disappointed when we were not able to join him to usher in the new millennium; he had decided that Jerusalem was the logical location for such a celebration.
    While I knew how dire Roger’s prognosis was, I was convinced that his determination, and preparedness to try radical and untested options, would be successful. Sadly, that was not to be, yet he communicated the outlook with a typical matter-of-factness that must have tested even his legendary enthusiasm. For me, a light has gone out with his passing, and I extend my fond thoughts to his sons and their families, and especially to Catherine.

  30. Today, November 1st, is All Saints Day. Roger’s calling was to lift people up by promoting freedom under the rule of law. People he knew and millions of people he did not know lead better lives because of his labour in the vineyard of liberty. As I see it, Roger has joined the assembly of Saints.

    Requiescat In Pace, good fellow. Our hearts are heavy with grief, but that grief is tempered both by thanksgiving for your life and hope for the life to come.

  31. I have known Roger for 26 years.

    He was a fantastic human being, a great friend and the hardest worker I have ever met. He built the Roundtable into the premier economic think tank in the World.

    As a result of Roger’s work New Zealand has economically literate business leaders and an electorate with the best understanding of economic issues in the West. This does not of course stop them wanting dopey policies.

    God save New Zealand without him.

    He is a Hero of New Zealand and I intend remembering him in a Wall of Hero’s of New Zealand including Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson at my Farm.

    I very much fear that without Roger’s clarity, energy, passion and commitment New Zealand will fall back into the intellectual land of the mushies. Thank goodness we have Catherine to help keep the battle going.

    Alan Gibbs

  32. The Japanese have people who are declared to be “National Treasures”. I have always thought of Roger Kerr as our “National Treasure”.
    Whenever I have had to think about a public policy issue the place I start is to see what Roger has written. In those unusual cases when he has written nothing I would give Roger a ring. He would always have some sound advice. Often Roger would come back to me a short time later having done an extraordinary amount of research and thinking.
    He would say “Lets start from first principles”. Most people cannot do this because they do not have any principles to start from.
    Roger was a man of principle. They are thought out, logical principles.
    Every one comments on Roger’s unfailing courtesy and kindness.
    I have some experience of bad press in my case much of it deserved. So I have a bit of an idea what bad press is like. I can not imagine how Roger endured his bad press. The deliberate miss interpretation of his ideas. The personal abuse from people who had never met him or ever troubled to read anything he had written. Roger only expressed some puzzlement over politicians’ behaviour but never bitterness.
    I believe Roger’s reputation will grow because much of his advice is timeless.
    We are better for having known him.

  33. Roger, old friend! I recall with pleasure a first meeting of many, sometimes in the mid-1980s, when you grilled me about the true reasons for the German economic miracle –– until you had the answer that satisfied us both: it was economic freedom and self-responsibility that set people’s energies free. Since then, we have fought for quite a few causes, and I will always be grateful to you and the NZBR for involving me in New Zealand affairs –– on immigration, labour market liberalisation, labour market re-regulation, environmental politics, the inconstancy of NZ politics and basic philosophy.
    All the while, I admired your energy, your clear thinking, your honesty, and good cheer. We were aware of your private burdens, but admired you for your stoic commitment to the good cause in public life. And we were all very happy with you, when you beamed, as you stepped into public view with Catherine!
    You were an inspiration to me and you were right in demanding that I always argued from first principles when we discussed the world and the meaning of life!
    In gratitude!

  34. I was in London when I heard of Roger’s passing and having spent the weekend with him and Catherine at Consilium only a few months before, I was deeply saddened and shocked that the end came so quickly.

    I got to know Roger in the early 1980s I think when he was seconded from Treasury to the Industries Assistance Commission in Canberra. He came across CIS publications and made contact, though we didn’t actually meet until the the Mont Pelerin Society conference held in Sydney in August 1985. Roger was instrumental in assuring that we had a good Kiwi contingent at the meeting. The Roundtable of course was also established that year.

    CIS began its NZ activities in addition to its active Australian programme early the next year and it was natural that NZBR and CIS (or NZCIS in those days – a slightly separate outfit), should be allies in the fight for sensible policy and a free society, though of course with a slight competitive streak in that alliance. Roger and I became firm friends with many common interests, one of which was membership in the Mont Pelerin Society where we would meet when away from Australasia in places such as Sweden or India or Guatemala.

    While indpendent organisations, the co-operation between CIS and NZBR endured. Often it was sharing costs of speakers, or publishing work of each others organisations, or just swapping ideas about who might do this or that in aid of the cause we shared. We were part of the free market in ideas.

    At Consilium each year, CIS presents an award (known as the Alan McGregor Fellowsbhip) to one or two individuals who we believe have made a significant contribution to advance the ideas for which it stands. We were privileged to be able to present an award to Roger this year and that, despite his llness, he and Catherine we able to make the trip to Coolum in Queensland. I posted the citation that I read when the award was presented on our blog inCISe (you can read it at

    New Zealand in particular, but also Australia to some extent by inspiration, gained enormously from Roger’s work, his enthusiasm and unrelenting energy in pursuit of the ideas he believed in. His legacy is great and we all hope that there will be others who can take it forward to make New Zealand the sort of place he always envisaged.

    You will be missed Roger.

  35. Pingback: RIP Roger Kerr » TVHE

  36. Many New Zealanders have spoken of their personal grief over the death of Roger Kerr as well as the enormous gap his passing leaves for our public life. The overwhelming story being told is one of a man whose commitment was primarily to good policy being implemented in New Zealand. We join in that chorus—Roger was encouraging of our work and always mounted a good debate, whether we were in agreement or not. He was a popular visitor with our interns and we will miss his kindness, his warmth, his quick wit and sharp intellect.

    As political opponents and friends are all acknowledging, Roger was willing to present his views openly, fairly and frankly and he took leadership on issues that others did not want to touch, even when it involved personal cost. We will miss him greatly.

  37. Like David Trebeck, Roger was a hero of mine. Unfortunately, I only met him on a couple of occassions but I benefitted greatly from his writings. To those who put a high value on individual freedom – economic and political – Roger was a constant source of inspiration. Many were the times (as then CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia) that I would require renewed energy and enthusiasm to continue to fight the “good fight” and a reading of the thoughts of Roger was always a great tonic. He understood that ideas are important, and he was one of the best at expressing those ideas with courage, clarity and intellectual integrity. His contribution to both New Zealand and Australia was outstanding. He will be missed.
    Lyndon Rowe

  38. Roger was and remains for me a warm, kind and noble person, a patriot and an inspiration.

    He was devoted to Catherine and his sons and understood the sacrifices that they and he made to enable him to do his duty and fulfill his destiny.

    He and Catherine have been unstinting in their kindness to my daughter Anya. He gave me invaluable moral and practical support on many occasions, as he has given to many others.

    As a faithful exponent of Adam Smith’s underlying moral philosophy, he was selfless. He was not prone to the vanity, greed, self-advancement or duplicity that afflict so many lesser people who touch money and power. He incarnated the opposite of the selfish egoism that is the caricature of liberal economics.

    In his patriotism, he was a romantic idealist. I am sure that, for as long as he could remember, he had always had an image of New Zealand. He desperately wanted our nation to be the most enlightened, the most advanced, the most tolerant and the most prosperous.

    In my collaboration with him, he was at his most inspirational on labour market reform. He provided both the initial spark and the subsequent hard slog that eventually produced the reform that New Zealand so urgently needed. His idealism imbued his inspiration – he understood the devastation caused by a rigid labour market that contradicted the needs of the economy and destroyed productive employment, not least for young people like his sons seeking their first jobs.

    I regret not having worked more with him, and especially on those economic policies with which many countries around the world are now struggling – fiscal policy and financial sector regulation. If his inspiration had been fully harnessed in these areas, New Zealand and the world would have been much better off. We took his inspirational force for granted – as we did not care as much as he did.

    John Zohrab

  39. A remarkable man, who passionately produced an enormous amount of exceptional work, always underpinned by his overwhelming desire to see our country thrive. I cherish the inspiration Roger imparted and pray his legacy and timeless principles will live on. You will be so greatly missed.
    Michael Browne

  40. So many of us learnt our economic fundamentals under this gentle giant. The green pen could be sharp but its lessons were not to be forgotten. Thank you Roger.

  41. Roger was a great man whose influence extended internationally. The reforms that brought New Zealand back from the economic brink over the past decades owe as much to him as to anyone. He leaves New Zealand in much better shape than he found it.

    Roger was never cynical or self-serving, but always intellectually honest, decent and humane. He was thoughtful, generous and smiling, and invariably good company. We shall miss him immensely.

  42. Roger’s intellect and impact on New Zealand and the wider world has been documented by many here. I have little to share on this, only that his enthusiasm for his subject managed to break down intellectual barriers of interest and understanding for me where no others ever did.
    How I really knew Roger was as a friend whom I met through Catherine. I will always remember him as the charming, kind hearted man whom I spent summers with. Whether it was sharing a drink discussing matters of state on the deck, washing the dishes in the sink or both of us flailing around not really managing to play volley ball, Roger to me was always just a lovely tremendously generous and kind man. I miss him.

  43. Outside the Roundtable, Roger assisted a wide range of other non-profit groups (as other posts above attest), including the Law & Economics Association. He was keen to lift the quality of any debate above a shallow media or shambolic political treatment, even where it involved differing points of view.

    Whether presenting to 8 people or 80, he was always engaging, principled and unfailingly generous with his time. His genuine concern for this nation’s prosperity and standing was self-evident, even to people who disagreed or lived elsewhere on the political spectrum.

    I can’t be in Wellington today, but thoughts are with Catherine and family.

  44. Some personal reflections…

    In late 1980s Canada, before coming to New Zealand, I knew very little about New Zealand. But two things I did know about were the New Zealand All Blacks and Rogernomics.

    I first met Roger sometime in 1993 when I was at The Treasury. Bryce Wilkinson, Roger and I had a long chat over lunch (and Seresin wine if I recall) about education issues in New Zealand. That began a long period of collaboration on education issues – while I was a public servant, a member of the New Zealand Business Roundtable (NZBR)/Education Forum staff, a consultant, and until very recently an occasional sounding board on issues.

    As one who came to New Zealand post the policy revolution, I did not work with Roger during the heady reform days of the 1980s. Nonetheless, it is evident that Roger made a great contribution to the New Zealand reform story – both within Treasury and with the NZBR during those times. Roger’s keen intellect, unbounded optimism and dogged determination saw him make a significant contribution to the betterment of New Zealand that few will match. No one so consistently stuck their head above the parapet the way Roger did on policy issues. And although his policy prescriptions were sometimes unpopular, his sustained advocacy – through some pretty bleak political climates – is to be lauded.

    As many have already noted, Roger was a serial optimist. That was evident as much in his ongoing policy advocacy in Wellington, as in his wider view of the world and his final struggle with melanoma. While others would see domestic policy setbacks (eg. the partial reversal of the 1990s reforms that took place during the 2000s) as the end of the road, Roger would see them as challenges to be overcome. His optimism about the wider world was no more evident than in the ‘Optimism for the New Millennium’ speech that he delivered in December 1999: (

    Roger’s policy optimism and his refusal to let policy setbacks get him get down stemmed from the fact that he knew that the impact of an organization such as the New Zealand Business Roundtable was not immediate – it would be felt only several years or decades into the future. He knew this was the endurance of five-day test cricket, not the adrenalin of Twenty20. His ideas and his influence will live on – through his writings, those who have attended the NZBR’s many outreach programs and his direct and indirect influence on so many around him. New Zealand’s continued high ranking in various measures of economic freedom (despite some backsliding) is testament to the sustainability of the reforms that Roger so ably advocated.

    As any visitor to the New Zealand Business Roundtable office can attest, Roger loved books. Walls were not only sight and sound barriers between rooms, they were also there to hold books! Books arrived in the post seemingly every week. When I asked him once what he was going to do with all those books, he said they were for his retirement. I hope he has taken some with him.

    Roger was a prolific writer of speeches and articles for the popular press. Requests to speak came from around the country. No group was too small to address – as many Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs and other service and professional organizations across New Zealand and organizations outside the country – can attest. To Roger, the audience was not just those in the room. Speeches offered a means of communicating principles, arguments and facts that would have a lasting impact. You knew a speech or article was due when Roger would be seated at the table in the NZBR office’s conference room surrounded by books, previous speeches, newspaper clippings, quotation books, etc.

    Roger could write top quality stuff in the time it would take the rest of us to develop an outline. I recall writing a few articles for the NZBR as a consultant and him saying he could write it in half a day, but he would give me a couple of days to do it! Roger was always a good lesson in the concept of absolute and comparative advantage. Whenever you wrote anything for the NZBR – a Parliamentary submission, a book or an article – you knew that he could do it better than you could (and in less time!), but it made more sense for him to let you do it while he focused on other things. You knew you were the gardener, not the doctor or lawyer, in all those economics textbook examples of absolute and comparative advantage.

    No doubt the NZBR will find a way to celebrate Roger’s many achievements and his intellectual and personal legacy. Whatever the future holds for the NZBR, there is no doubt it will never be the same without Roger. He will be missed.

    A la prochaine Roger!

    Norman LaRocque
    Manila, The Philippines

  45. The NZBRT has lost the keystone to its arch and will find it difficult, if not impossible, to fill the gap.

    Farewell to a tireless worker for New Zealand’s best interests; a patient educator, tutor and truth seeker. His final contribution to the savings debate in New Zealand was, I feel, saved for last and will not be ignored.

    Thank you Roger; sympathies to Catherine and their families. Their loss is so much greater than ours and that’s saying something.

  46. One of the greatest of the many many contributions Roger made was, as the Executive Director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, his unwavering approach in advocating public policies that were in the wider public interest.

    We in the business community, owe it to Roger to follow as best we can, this fine example he set.

  47. A truly enormous contribution and legacy from a life well lived. Your humour, dignity and rigour will be long remembered.

  48. Aside from his remarkable brain, and knowledge, and ability to source relevant data to support his case, the most amazing aspect was his astonishing productivity, writing and editing skills.

    I worked with him for more than 8 years in the 1990s when there was enormous resistance in the media and general populace to the tough medicine he promoted. In this respect he was a marathon runner.

    I am indebted to him in so many ways

    Barrie Saunders

  49. An outstanding person in all respects. If he asked for something you felt guilty if you didn’t stop whatever you were already doing to service the request, less you be the laggard in his project! This automatic response was due to the example Roger set of hard work, excellence and selflessness. He will be very much missed. Chris Milne.

  50. I first met Roger in 1983 when I went to Wellington to undertake an industry assistance measurement project with a group of economists who had been given leave from the Industries Assistance Commission (now Productivity Commission) for this purpose. I have a vague recollection that we were referred to somewhere in the Australian press as economic missionaries taking the message of free trade to New Zealand. I quite liked that description. Even though we were engaged in a technical measurement exercise we knew that making the industry assistance regime more transparent had the potential to contribute to trade liberalisation in New Zealand.

    Roger chaired the inter-departmental steering committee responsible for the project, but that title does not adequately describe his role. Roger led by example. He was enthusiastic about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious. I was impressed by the way Roger inspired the highly dedicated group of staff working for him and even more impressed when I saw him give some senior staff in the Treasury little pep talks. Roger went out of his way to ensure that members of our project team felt welcome and that we enjoyed our stay in New Zealand.

    A year or so later, Roger was given leave from Treasury to spent a few months working in the Industries Assistance Commission in Canberra. Roger settled in quickly and brought the same enthusiasm to his work with the Commission.

    While my association with Roger began with a technology transfer from Australia to New Zealand, there was soon a substantial technology transfer in the other direction. For example, at various times Roger asked me to comment on papers relating to issues such as corporatisation and privatisation, where thinking in New Zealand was ahead of that in Australia. I doubt whether my comments were particularly helpful, but my interest in the issues was certainly aroused.

    Later, when I worked as a consultant on various projects for the NZBR, I was given the opportunity to acquire expertise in the subject matter while undertaking the project. Roger would not have given me those opportunities just to provide me with learning experiences, but I am grateful nevertheless. In his management of these projects Roger always respected my independence and never tried to dictate what views I should present. He always asked me whom he should seek comments from on draft papers that I had prepared.

    It is a privilege to be able to say that I knew Roger Kerr.

  51. Roger was one of New Zealand’s outstanding economic thinkers, and a person who rendered great service to his country . What I greatly admired and respected about Roger Kerr, professionally, was his scholarship, his keen intellect, his honesty and his dedication to New Zealand. On a personal level, he was a thoroughly decent and kind man and someone I liked and trusted. Most importantly Roger’s contribution has been to lift the standard of the national conversation about our economic future, avoiding cliché, shallow thinking and comfortable mythology. There was a robustness to his analysis, and a dedication to debating ideas rather than dealing in personalities or ideology, that is immensely important to our country. Roger lifted the standard of our thinking and the way in which we are able to debate important disagreements. In that sense he offered vital leadership.

    Roger showed outstanding courage, in the face of professional criticism, and in facing his cancer. Here we saw true mark of the man He displayed the finest qualities of determination, optimism, and an ability to quickly grasp the details of a new situation, while bravely facing physical and mental difficulty. In my view Roger Kerr was a truly great New Zealander, a towering intellect and thought leader, and a role model.
    Paul Callaghan

  52. It is difficult to know what to add to the comments above, other than to wholeheartedly endorse them. In my column in The Australian, I put it as follows:

    “And finally, vale to Roger Kerr, executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, who died last week. Long after the rest of us are reduced to footnotes, he will be remembered as a fearless and scrupulous advocate for sensible economic and social policies and for the prosperity of his country: and most of all, as a passionate believer in reasoned argument and the power of the truth.”

  53. Pingback: Roger Kerr’s funeral | Kiwiblog

  54. I have known Roger through his work for more than two decades, but first met him in 2004 at a conference on Corporate Governance. I have been privileged to have had his and Catherine’s friendship in more recent times. Roger was a wonderful man. He had a remarkable combination of intellect, humility, patience, tenacity and humour. He was wise. He was always on for a challenge. He was always generous with his time. And he was a great mentor. At 66 (even when unwell) he brought the youthful determination most people lose in their teens. It was infectious and I will miss it. During his 25 years at the Roundtable, most New Zealanders have not known how lucky they are to have had Roger’s unerringly-principled championing of sound economic policy. He dedicated his life to doing good, to helping New Zealanders achieve their aspirations. Roger leaves big shoes to fill, but he also leaves a great legacy. We have a lot to thank him for.

  55. I am sad to learn this news. Roger will be missed. Though I didn’t get a chance to meet Roger in person while living in Wellington, his generosity and kindness will be remembered and cherished forever. My thoughts are with your loved ones!

    Angie James
    San Jose, CA

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