A brief history at ESSA

I’m at the #essa2013 conference and Bloemfontein and seeing old friends again have made me think of all the Economic Society conferences that I have attended over the years.

My first one was in 1997. I was a new junior lecturer at Unisa and the conference was in Potchefstroom. Having just finished Honours the year before in Potch I knew the people and place and could show my new colleagues around. I had just started with my Master’s degree and didn’t have a paper to present. The next was Pretoria in 1999. I went there with three Dutch students visiting from the VU. They and two of my other colleagues were the only ones at my graveyard session paper on “Fiscal decentralisation of road transport infrastructure and economic development”. I missed 2001, being away at Warwick and cannot remember where it was held.

In 2003 a big group of us went down to the Lord Charles Hotel in Summerset West. While the senior Profs were at the council meeting we took the bus and went wine tasting. One evening JD van Heerden offered us a lift to go out in Stellenbosch and we ended up having a great time at Tollies. I spoke about “Foreign direct investment in Africa: Do institutions and geography matter?” (Co-author Prof Wim Naudé)

In 2005 I was presenting papers everywhere: Denmerk, the UK, Japan and also at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban. I had two papers there. The first was with colleagues from Statistics, James Allison and Gerhard Koekemoer, with the title: “Convergence or divergence of South African cities and towns? Evidence from kernel density estimates”. The second with a Master’s student Martin Luus and he presented on the topic: “Economic specialisation and diversity of South Africa’s cities”. I saw McCloskey there for the first time and had to sit at high table during the conference dinner, speaking to Tony Venables.

The conference was held in Johannesburg in 2007 and I had a bunch of papers:

  • “Measuring the Export Capability of Cities and Towns in South Africa”, with Marianne Matthee.
  • “On exports and domestic transport costs: An industry viewpoint”, with Marianne Matthee and Sonja Grater.
  • “Measuring the quality of local governance in South Africa” with Jacky van der Merwe.

In 2009 we were back at the coast and this time in Port Elizabeth. Mine was the last paper in the last session, but a good one with Neil Rankin: “Agglomeration and manufacturing output: Firm-level
evidence from South Africa”. There Andrea and I went out to Barney’s the one evening to celebrate Steve’s birthday. Good times.

The 2011 conference was at the Maties campus and an excellent one. I worked with Derick Blaauw on the topic: “Micro-evidence on day labourers and the thickness of labour markets in South Africa”. This year there is a tourism paper (with Melville Saayman) and a volunteers paper (with Ferdinand Niyimbanira) in Bloemfontein.

So, thanks ESSA, it has been excellent. Good times and I have met lots of wonderful people. I recently heard someone say in a presentation: People yearn to go on a pilgrimage, but these days they call them conferences. I could not agree more.


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