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The Inventor, Bill Phillips


The Inventor

Bill Phillips

MONIAC inventor Bill Phillips was one of New Zealand's most accomplished economists. His best known contribution to the field is the Phillips Curve, which in modified form remains important in modern economic theory.

Alban William Housego Phillips (1914-1975) was born in New Zealand, moved to Australia soon after leaving school, and in 1937 went to China. He escaped ahead of the Japanese invasion, reached Britain via the Trans-Siberian Railway, and studied electrical engineering.

When the Second World War broke out Phillips joined the Royal Air Force and was posted to Singapore, escaping to Java on a troopship as the island fell to Japanese forces. Here he was captured by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war. He put his inventive skills to use in the camp, building a number of devices including a miniature radio hidden in a clog.

Awarded a New Zealand Forces scholarship, Phillips attended the London School of Economics from 1946, studying sociology and economics. It was here that he developed the MONIAC, which some claim to be the world's first macro-economic computer.

Phillips' most famous contribution to economics remains the Phillips Curve, a relationship between unemployment and inflation which Phillips analysed during the 1950s and became a significant cornerstone of economic analysis and thinking for the next thirty-odd years.

In 1967, Phillips took up a position in the Australian National University. He suffered a stroke two years later and retired to New Zealand, where he taught at the University of Auckland. He died in March 1975.

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Further Reading

As the twig is bent: personal thoughts, memories and reported experiences about the life of my brother (unpublished)
Ibbotson-Somervell, Carol S. (1993). A. W. H. Phillips, M.B.E., 1914-1975, A.M.I.E.E., A.I.L., PH.D.ECON, Professor Emeritus

Robert Leeson (ed.) (2000). A. W. H. Phillips: Collected Works in Contemporary Perspective
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Phillips, A. W. (1950). Mechanical models in economic dynamics
Economica, 17, p. 283-305

Bollard, Alan E. (2011). Man, money and machines: the contributions of A. W. Phillips
Economica. 78, p. 1-9

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