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Economics student lauded for excellent essay

Date Released: Tue, 12 March 2013 11:59 +0200

Honours Economics student, Dylan Smith, who is due to graduate with Distinction in April this year, has been named as the winner of the prestigious Nedbank/Old Mutual Budget Speech Competition. But not only that, he is also waiting news of whether he will be accepted to further his studies in the USA as a Fulbright scholar.

“Winning the competition feels fantastic, especially considering the high quality of my fellow finalists. The validation of my analytical and writing skills from a panel of highly experienced experts from industry and government is a huge boost to my confidence,” says Dylan.

“The Department of Economics and the Faculty of Commerce is enormously proud of Dylan who won the Nedbank and Old Mutual Budget Speech,” says Dean of Commerce, Prof Dave Sewry.

“Congratulations to him and David Fryer who supervised him. This is great Dylan, we are very proud of you,” says the Head of Department of Economics, Prof Professor Hugo Nel.

The awards ceremony was hosted at by Nedbank and Old Mutual at the Southern Sun in Cape Town. Several high profile guests attended, including the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, SARS Commissioner, Oupa Magashula and other cabinet members including Naledi Pandor and Trevor Manuel. The programme included questions to Mr Gordhan on the budget speech, which had been delivered earlier that day. 

Mr David Fryer, who supervised Dylan’s main research for his Honours says Dylan's wide grasp on Economics and his excellent presentation skills carried him through the process of being selected. His research towards his Honours resulted in a joint publication in the African Review of Economics and Finance.

The competition process runs for a year and the topic is released on the day of the budget speech each year. The essays are due internally in the economics department in March and are submitted to the competition in April. After two rounds of cuts, finalists are announced in December, and the winner is announced on the evening of the next budget speech.

Mr Fryer says the students write the competition essay instead of their macroeconomic essay. These are then marked as usual, after which the students decide whether to enter the competition. The essays are then judged by a filter panel, and the semi-finalists (the top 20 in undergraduate and post graduate categories) are selected.

Essays are then re-judged, and the 10 finalists in each category are selected. But, Mr Fryer, emphasises, “for the selection of the winners, it is the interview, with a very high powered panel, that counts most”.

All the post-graduates were asked to examine two issues: the effectiveness of the counter-cyclical budgetary response to the 2008 crisis, and the likely implications of the rapidly rising public wage bill.

Dylan’s essay used time series data from the Reserve Bank to conclude that, although the treasury’s policies were effective in stabilising the macro-economy, the nearly one million jobs that were lost in 2009 were not restored, which means that on a human level the recession was extremely costly.

With regards to the wage bill, his data concluded that although public service capacity and infrastructure spending should be seen as complementary spending goals, the size of the bill was growing too fast and was in danger of crowding out infrastructure spending, throwing the budget off-balance.

Dylan complemented Mr Fryer on being an insightful and supportive supervisor. “He is particularly good at allowing students to organically develop their own research interests while ensuring that their research makes sense. And he is not afraid to incorporate a range of ideological and methodological approaches in to research, but does so critically and without ideological bias – an uncommon trait in modern economics.”

Dylan is currently working for Genesis Analytics, a Johannesburg-based economics and strategy consulting firm. His work involves analytical and strategic advice for financial institutions across the African continent. At the same time he is investigating research into the political economy of the dual listings wave on the JSE since the liberalisation of South Africa’s economy.

Caption: From left to right: Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, Dylan Smith,  CEO of Old Mutual Emerging Markets, Ralph Mupita and  CEO of Nedbank Mike Brown.

Story by Anna-Karien Otto

Photo: supplied