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A beautiful mind – read it and weep

Written By: - Date published: 2:45 pm, September 9th, 2009 - 53 comments
Categories: articles, uncategorized - Tags:

An email doing the rounds of the women’s networks found its way to me today. It’s link to an article about the late Sophie Elliott, fomerly of Otago University and the essay she wrote on equity and  and equality.

Sophie may have been heading to Treasury the week she was murdered but when you read this article and the passionate introduction from her lecturers it seems clear she certainly wasn’t captured by the right when she was studying economics at Otago.

“We found Sophie’s essay stunningly to-the-point, thoughtful and mature. Jean-Yves Duclos, editor of the Journal of Economic Inequality, wrote…’It is a remarkable piece of research for such a young person. In just a few paragraphs, the paper is able to strike right to the core of welfare economics and to grasp with many of its complex and philosophical and ethical issues. Elliott certainly had a beautiful mind.’

In Sophie’s paper, the reader may find many questions to ponder. Should a policy be about the the people who deserve to be treated equally rather than those who are treated equally…..Does the propserity of one person negatively affect the fortunes of some others?…..Are market-generated outcomes necessarily unfair? If so, is the lack of compensations for this unfairness morally wrong?

We have both felt Sophie’s loss, in this awful calamity, very deeply indeed. We are proud to have been her teachers and we commend her inspirational essay to the readers of Oxonomics. There was something magical about Sophie Elliott – everybody who knew her felt it, and everybody who knew her loved here, all but for one person. Rest in peace Sophie.

What a tragic, tragic loss on so many levels.

53 comments on “A beautiful mind – read it and weep ”

  1. gargoyle 1

    Indeed a very sad loss to her family, friends and NZ…………… but why on earth do you feel the need to try and score a cheap political point ?

  2. vto 2

    “..it seems clear she certainly wasn’t captured by the right when she was studying ..”

    No, but what do you expect? Most every student bends left at that stage of life. It is later, once they have actual experience and realities which start to infiltrate that political positions change to reflect a more realistic state of play..

  3. StephenR 3

    Well ‘thank god’ she didn’t get ‘captured by the right’. :eye roll thing:

    The women’s networks should keep a closer eye on Kiwiblog posts! http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2009/07/sophies_paper.html

    Note I said posts, not comments, though the comments there are pretty good 🙂

    • Ag 3.1

      Are you folks serious? Did you read the paper? The final quotation is from Hayek and the paper seems to me to more or less follow a typical right wing line of argument (full disclosure: I did a graduate paper covering most of this stuff when I was in school), which is to point out the vast number of problems with various conceptions of equality (or equity) with the aim of removing any meaningful concept of equality from debate and letting the chips fall where they may (the final quote being from Hayek is not an accident).

      I’ve seen this strategy many times.

      Not to speak ill of the dead, but I think it is a good (actually a very good) summary of most of the positions on the issue (particularly Dworkin’s work). However, there’s nothing particularly original in it, or that counts as anything other than a summary of the literature, as far as I can see. If that’s a superb paper in the Otago economics department, then well…

      But this whole business is rather tasteless. Whatever this poor woman’s political views, it isn’t seemly to go about trying to capture her post mortem for “our side”, or indeed vilifying her for being the “enemy”. I’m sure she was a nice person whatever her political leanings (yes, even Hayek).

      • Pascal's bookie 3.1.1

        I’ve not read Dworkin, but from the paper, and wiki he seems closer to Rawls than he is to Hayek. Would that be right?

        • Ag

          Yes. Although there are a few differences (some of which I can’t remember), Dworkin’s view is more or less Rawlsian in the broad sense. He favours equality of resources against equality of welfare in the form of a hypothetical equal initial distribution of resources. The main problem is that it doesn’t really appear to work well as a theory of equality, since it allows vast inequalities of resources and welfare.

          IIRC the paper in question noted all the usual objections to Dworkin, although it’s a long time since I read Dworkin’s original paper.

  4. Ruth 4

    Is there nothing that cannot have a political label slapped on it?

    What bad taste.

  5. Ari 5

    Treasury really isn’t just a stronghold of righties. Just because they’re pretty weak on our priorities doesn’t mean they don’t snap up plenty of people who agree with us.

  6. StephenR 6

    Not having been through a Treasury appointment process i can only speculate, but seems unlikely they ask for opinions about grand macroeconomic theories from their graduate analysts and the like, just whether they’ve got the brains and attitude to handle the work that Treasury does.

  7. TightyRighty 7

    Horriffic bad taste. Harldy unsurprising though, even with the morale moral high ground claimed here over the”sewer” at kiwiblog

    [lprent: Very unfortunate typo – had me laughing for a few secs. I’ll fix it ]

    • felix 7.1

      Morale high ground?

      Are you John Key? (Not that I’d be overtly concerned if you were.)

      • TightyRighty 7.1.1

        No Grammar Dick. Im not. John Key is very busy doing a very good job. It’s only loser opposition mp’s who can take the time to constantly blog. Are you a teacher?

        • Tim Ellis

          Hey, TR, don’t let him get under your skin.

          • TightyRighty

            little people with their persistent nagging attention to little things that only matter in their little mind are one of the reasons this country lags behind australia. give them a voice and they think everyone listens.

            • BLiP

              Explains a lot: perhaps if more people on the right considered the difference between “morale” and “moral” something worth knowing the economy might actually be in a better place and/or those responsible for stuffing it up held accountable.

        • vto

          haha. But which is worse – being John Key or being a teacher?

          • gargoyle

            Felix = the Standard’s tame troll, occasionally amusing but usually just mindlessly belligerent vs anything that it perceives as being to the right politically.

            [lprent: Yeah, and also responds to my unsubtle hints. That is the only thing that prevents him from getting the warning bans that used to piss the ‘sod off so much. It is tiresome, but I leave notes on him only occasionally. The ones I have to keep doing it to get banned. Darwinian winnowing of people who waste my time. ]

        • felix

          Grammar? It’s a completely different word, cockhole.

          [lprent: careful…]

          • TightyRighty

            Nice one. why don’t you move to your true vocation, writing inane letters to editors that seldom get published as they rarely extend beyond two issues. Grammar and punctuation. If you can’t argue the argument, keep it to yourself grammar dick. i would call it grammatical, but it’s to small.

            • TightyRighty

              and thanks to lprent for the edit.

            • felix

              If you can’t argue the argument,…

              And the argument is what? Whether you think the post was in bad taste or not?

              Do forgive me for if I seem less than fascinated.

          • burt


            Are you a parking warden ?

  8. Tim Ellis 8

    I read this article some time ago. There is some quite excellent analysis in it.

    I didn’t read it as written in a left-right context at all. It certainly wasn’t left wing thinking.

  9. Tammy Gordon 9

    Wow. I’ve got a lot to learn. I didn’t mean to make a cheap shot about a young women’s lfie. I was moved by it, is all.

    • Pascal's bookie 9.1

      I don’t think there was a cheap shot in there at all Tammy, and say one thing about me, say I know cheap shots.

      If you liked a person’s ideas, and that person was passionate about them, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to celebrate that.

      There’s a bit of ‘concern trolling’ going on in this thread that’s all. (folks whose only comment is to show concern about the tone, or some other baseless nonsense)

    • gargoyle 9.2

      Tammy if you were to remove ..”t seems clear she certainly wasn’t captured by the right when she was studying economics at Otago.” it would be a fine post – that sentence cheapened it a bit from my perspective…just saying.

      • felix 9.2.1

        Oh and Tammy, the whole site would be improved by the gradual and systematic removal of any and all left-leaning political ideas and thoughts.

        • gargoyle

          “Oh and Tammy, the whole site would be improved by the gradual and systematic removal of any and all left-leaning political ideas and thoughts.”

          Indeed …especially on posts that commemorate a young life horribly cut short

          • BLiP

            horribly cut short

            What – taking the piss out of her death now? What a top chap you really are.

  10. Ruth 10

    Nothing wrong with celebrating Sophie’s life. What’s wrong is attempting to use her death for advantage in the political debate.

    Sophie’s death was not political ammunition. Using it in that way should quite rightly turn a few stomachs.

    I suspect you know that Pascal’s bookie.

    • Pascal's bookie 10.1

      Who is doing that Ruth? Seriously.

      All Tammy said was that it appears to her that Sophie was not captured by a right wing view of economics. What on earth is offensive about that?

      This is no piece about ‘martyrdom’ or any of the other strawmen people are reading into it. It looks to me that the piece is about Sophie’s paper, which shows in the authors view, that Sophie was not captured by right wing economic thought. I suspect that tammy thought might want to talk about that paper, but here we are, all ‘concerned’ and indignant.

      Should we just ignore what a person said and did in their life just in case it ‘poiliticises’ it?

      For goodness sake.

      And as for this:

      “I suspect you know that Pascal’s bookie”

      If you are going to call me a liar, at least have the decency to use the word, but you are wrong, I do not think Tammy is using Sophie’s death as political ammunition at all.

  11. Herodotus 11

    With a comment as “Not captured by the right” the author is displaying what is wrong with left/right thinking. An idea should stand on its own merrit. The orgins of an idea should not be tarnished by were its orgins were derrived from.
    I agree with many contributors above that all that this has done is to display the shollowness of the author in the attempt to make cheap political gain. Shame on you!

  12. Tim Ellis 12

    The real maturity that Sophie showed intellectually was that she doesn’t appear to have been captured by the left or the right in her thinking. I think it is a bit of a mistake to try and make her a martyr of the intellectual left, however, which she clearly wasn’t.

  13. RedLogix 13

    Thanks for linking to the article Tammy, it’s an interesting read. As Pb has already accurately put it, ignore the concern trolls.

    As for the left/right wing context, well it’s plain that discussions around the notion of equality was never exactly the right wing’s natural comfort zone.

  14. Daveo 14

    Man, some on the right will pounce on anything to try and score points. What a pack of hypersensitive dickheads.

    • gargoyle 14.1

      Man, some on the left will write anything to try and score points. What a pack of insensitive dickheads.

      Easy to write trite drivel isn’t it ?

  15. lprent 15

    Get a life people who are ‘concerned’. From what has been said I suspect that Sophie would have also been concerned about the gender economics. Are the ‘concerned’ going go around saying that her death had little to do with that.

    There are more pretentious political prats on this thread…

    Not everything on this blog is posted for political reasons….

    • burt 15.1


      With all due respect, I think Tammy will learn from this. Feel free to delete my comment here while deleting your own. Baptism by fire and all that is part of the process of understanding the lay of the land. I’m not trying to wind you up when I say this so please don’t take it the wrong way; Tammy seems quite capable of standing on her own two feet.

  16. lprent 16

    She almost certainly can. However my comment was not related to that. I read comments backwards normally, usually without reading posts. I’d been wondering what in the hell was going on when I warned Felix.

    Then I get on the bus, read the post in normal mode, and find all of the pious pontificating bullshit. So you get a comment in normal mode expressing what I think. Do I have to go back to using a different login so you know the difference between moderator and commentary?

    • burt 16.1


      Others might not agree with me but I think your comments and your moderation are easily differentiated. My comment was more saying I didn’t think you needed to defend her, noble as it is. 😉

  17. rave 17

    It seems that Tammy rightly supposed that the Treasury is of the political right. But that Sophie was not…yet.

    That seems to be the point of the comment of VTO about how people grow up and cease to be leftists because reality weighs heavy.

    Students like Sophie can explore their interests a bit at Uni and question some of the more obvious defects of capitalism. Such as welfare economics which is basically designed to reconcile the inherent inequality of capitalism with some ideal of social equity or justice.

    Now Treasury has no such brief. Its brief is to oversee the smooth operation of the economy, especially the role of the state in acting as a regulator of the market. This may extend to costing intelligence services of course which is a form of market regulation. Perhaps it was another ‘Sophie’ who leaked those costings to the sovereign citizenry.

    As an employee of Treasury I think we can safely say that Sophie’s brains and idealism would have been used against her youthful ideals.

    Whether she would have become another VTO or a Standardista or even a Marxist with an analysis of the Treasury as the high church of capitalism we will never know.

    • Tim Ellis 17.1

      rave I haven’t worked in Treasury, but in a former job for the OAG I had a lot to do with Treasury people. The current Treasury secretary was a contemporary of mine at university, and he was a Labour man. His first job was working in Bill Rowling’s office. People who went to work in Treasury were invariably the cream of the crop for all the public service and were very bright. They often had strong opinions and could express them well, from all political sides.

      Miss Elliott leaned heavily on Dworkin’s theory of equality. Dworkin’s theories wouldn’t necessarily go down well in left wing circles, particularly that luck is arbitrary and that people are responsible for their moral choices.

      Nor could you say that Sen, Roemer and Sugden are left-wing or remotely socialist. Let alone Hayek.

      I get the impression that Tammy has assumed that just because Miss Elliott’s paper discusses welfare economics, that she must therefore not be right wing.

      LP, I don’t know where you form the view that Miss Elliott must have been, or would have been, concerned with gender economics.

      • rave 17.1.1

        On the strength of Sophie’s article I think that Tammy was right, she wasnt captured by the right. But given the ideological basis of higher education she was in extreme danger of being so in the conclusions she arrives at.

        John Roemer is an analytical Marxist who tries to argue for a redistribution of income to those according to their needs, and from those according to their work. She gives him a good hearing. It is not her fault that Roemer waters down his Marxism and doesnt mention that the reason that redistribution is necessary to equalise opportunity under capitalism is that a more subtle redistribution has already created unequal opportunity – its called the exploitation of wage labour.

        Thus we can’t blame Sophie for ending up with a quote from the high priest Hayek not to meddle with the miracle of the market, like the old AA saying, please lord teach us not to try to change things that we are taught we cannot change. After all her education was circumscribed by the neo-classical dogma Karl Marx called “vulgar economics” which is founded on a religious faith in the “hidden hand”.

    • vto 17.2

      you are an assumptious tud lady rave

  18. mike 18

    “seems clear she certainly wasn’t captured by the right when she was studying economics at Otago.”

    It’s a shame she wasn’t ‘captured’ though TG – we conservatives could have locked her away from those nut job leftie uni lecturer types. Slack post..

  19. lprent 19

    TE: I didn’t know one way or another. My point was that it would have only taken about three words by Tammy or Sophie and all of sudden we’d have had indignation and pontificating about that.

    Tammy wrote a good post about the work of someone and their work. What we get is a pile of pious pontificating. FFS

    • Tim Ellis 19.1

      LP, I think what you call piousness is the genuine outrage of people who think the Left are adopting somebody as their icon, for little more reason than that Miss Elliott wasn’t overtly right wing.

      I read Miss Elliott’s paper some time ago and my head ached. It is highly technical and deals with some very complex things, and as a non-economist even after reading it a third time, I didn’t come close to understanding it any more than I would understand about quantum mechanics. What I did understand from reading it, was some of the deeply complex thinking that goes into this stuff.

      Miss Elliott was a unique talent, without a doubt. I defy Tammy or anybody else here who has praised Miss Elliott for not being right-wing to point out where in her essay this is obvious. My reading of it, and as I say it comes from an ignorant position of not being a trained economist, is that Miss Elliott’s survey of the philosophy of equality is absolutely devoid of left-right ideology. It is a discussion that deals with the moral, technical and philosophical issues around equality in economics, from a position of orthodox economic analysis.

      In my view to make assumptions about what her ideology may have been based on this essay suggests that Tammy doesn’t have any grasp of the discussion.

  20. StephenR 20

    I think it’s perceived as cheap political point scoring because it was said by a poster on The Standard, which does it’s own thing from a partisan left point of view etc, fine. But that’s why.

    Anyhoo would be happy to see a discussion of the work which I am unlikely to understand and it won’t bloody load anyway so I can’t even see if I do understand it.

  21. Nick 21

    “t seems clear she certainly wasn’t captured by the right when she was studying economics at Otago.”

    Wow, no more or no less class that you’d expect from the standard, using a murder victim to score a political point

  22. lprent 22

    Oh dear. It looks like we’ve over-pavloved the comment-writers on the right. A post on The Standard and they start rushing around looking for the needle that is jabbing in their arm.

    FFS when a post is political on the site it usually pretty damn obvious. Most of the writers are as subtle as I am. In other words they don’t bother with the concept of inference, preferring to use a jack-hammer as a more obvious tool.

    So gargoyle makes a rather stupid reading of the post and the operant conditioned cows* blindly follow. How many of you bothered to read the post long enough to think.

    * what can I say – bugger the rats, at Waikato we used cows at Ruakura for operant conditioning

    • BLiP 22.1

      The “bewildered herd”?

    • burt 22.2


      I’m going to agree with you here. Enough repetition of the same old junk is just crap. Start swinging the ban stick around for people who are scoring cheap points. Hell Tammy said she was sorry hours ago and unless she rips the whole fricken thread down what else can she do!

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