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Hunter, Alexander (1919–1971)

by G. D. Snooks

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Alexander Hunter (1919-1971), economist and academic, was born on 23 December 1919 at Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, fifth son of Archibald Hunter, foreman shoemaker, and his wife Margaret, née Dykes, a former farm-servant. Alex attended Elder Park Primary and Govan High schools, leaving at 15 to learn his father's trade. During World War II he served abroad with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Royal Army Service Corps. Determined not to return to shoemaking, Hunter entered the University of Glasgow (M.A. Hons, 1951; D.Litt., 1966) on a grant. He won the William Tweeddale prize for distinction in political economy and joined the academic staff in 1951. At the office of the district registrar, Hillhead, on 22 December 1947 he had married Thelma Anna Carmela Cibelli, a fellow student and future academic.

In 1952 Hunter moved to the University College of North Staffordshire, Keele, where he taught economics and developed an interest in the implications for welfare of monopolies and restrictive practices. His first publications in 1955 were on this topic. Thereafter, he used his skills in economics to advise public bodies dedicated to promoting workable competition. In 1956 he became a consultant to the registrar of restrictive trading agreements. The experience led to his influential book, Competition and the Law (London, 1966), and enabled him to challenge successfully J. K. Galbraith in the Economic Journal in 1958-59.

Emigrating with his family to Australia in 1958, Hunter took up a senior lectureship at the University of Melbourne. Despite suffering his first heart attack, he edited The Economics of Australian Industry (1963). In 1961 he accepted the chair of economics at the University of New South Wales. He wrote a series of articles on restrictive trade practices, gave evidence to the Tasmanian royal commission which reported (1965) on the issue, and in 1967 was appointed a part-time consultant to the Commonwealth commissioner of trade practices. In 1965 Hunter had moved to Canberra as a senior fellow in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. He transferred to the Research School of Social Sciences next year and was promoted professorial fellow in 1969. He carried out research into the Indonesian economy (particularly oil and population) and the Australian petroleum and shipping industries, published prolifically and attracted international notice.

Hunter was a practical man who modestly hoped to use his training to make the world a marginally better place. He was a well-rounded economist of the type that is unfashionable, but essential, in academia today. Although he made use of theory, he was aware that it was often 'incompatible with practical applications of policy'. He valued the logical basis of his discipline which he skilfully employed, together with evidence (both contemporary and historical), simple statistical measures and a comparative approach to investigate issues in the field of industrial economics. He wrote in a clear, straightforward and informative manner with the object of persuading public figures and their advisers to his point of view.

Gentle, generous and kind, Hunter was well liked for the 'warmth of his friendship and the melodious lilt and laughter in his voice', and for 'his integrity . . . unpretentious and uncomplaining nature'. His genuine interest in the work of postgraduates from other departments was a rare attribute. While visiting Papua New Guinea as a member of the Territory's commission of inquiry into coastal shipping, he died of a coronary occlusion on 21 May 1971 at Lae and was cremated. His wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 7, no 2, July 1971, p 95
  • Economic Record, 47, no 119, Sept 1971, p 427, and for publications
  • Canberra Times, 22 May 1971
  • T. S. Swan, Alex Hunter, 1919-71, and J. Isaac, Memorial Service to Alex Hunter, Canberra, 27 June 1971, and T. Hunter, A Very Earnest Lady (typescripts, privately held).

Citation details

G. D. Snooks, 'Hunter, Alexander (1919–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunter-alexander-10577/text18787, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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