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Meet your colleague: Professor Michael Svarer

In building 2621 at Fuglesangs Allé, you find Professor Michael Svarer’s office. Here, he conducts research into labour market economics at the Department of Economics and Business Economics. Since 2016, he has also held the position as Chief Economic Advisor in the Danish Economic Councils. But how do you navigate between the two roles? And what does Chief Economic Advisor actually mean? Find out here.

2018.06.15 | Sinne B. Jakobsen

Michael Svarer in his office. Photo: Sinne Brandt Jakobsen

In the former main building at Fuglesangs Allé, lies the B-corridor -  behind a door and down a staircase far away from noise and traffic. Here you’ll find some of Denmark’s most talented economists such as Michael Svarer whom we meet in his office on a warm May afternoon.

Michael, can you tell us a bit about your work here at the Department of Economics and Business Economics?

Well, I’m an economics researcher and teach on the MSc in Economics and Management. I’m particularly interested in labour market economics and I mainly teach introductory economics courses on the first semester. I also supervise students on Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level. However, right now my teaching obligations are rather limited as I’ve held the position as Chief Economic Advisor in the Danish Economic Councils since 2016 after serving as Economic Advisor for four years.  This takes up quite a lot of my time.

What is your background?

I started studying economics at the former Department of Economics in 1990. After completing my Master’s degree, I worked as a macroeconomic analyst at Jyske Bank for a short while. However, I soon started missing the university and the way you are able to analyse things in-depth, so I returned and did a PhD. In 2001, I started working at the department and I’ve been here ever since. And I really like it here.

How do you navigate between the two jobs as professor and chief economic advisor?

It’s not always easy, because it’s two very different roles. However, they do share a deep academic core. In the Danish Economic Councils, our task is to provide independent economic analyses and policy advice to the Danish Government, and as Chief Economic Advisor - and thus chairman of the councils - you’re much more exposed and act in a far more political minefield than as a researcher. You put yourself out there, so to speak. At the same time, our recommendations must not be political. Naturally, this can be a difficult balancing act as politics and economics are inextricably intertwined. For this reason, it’s important that our advice is always based on our academic knowledge, and that our recommendations are research-based and independent of political interests.  The latter doesn’t differ much from being a professor and researcher.

What role do the Danish Economic Councils play in our society?

Some people are questioning the relevance of the Danish Economic Councils due to the current influx of other think tanks such as CEPOS, CEVEA and Kraka that also deliver economic analyses. But these think tanks are all privately funded, which means that they’re all more or less dependent on either financial or political interests. In this way, the Danish Economic Councils stand out because we’re more financially and politically independent and try to offer as neutral a picture as possible. For this reason, I believe that the Councils still play an important role in our society - perhaps even more than ever. In a time where there is such an abundance of information and input in the economic political debate, it often becomes clear how important it is to have a neutral and impartial contributor to the debate.

In Danish, economic advisors are called “Wisemen”.  This is a peculiar title suggesting that you’re actually wiser than everyone else?

Haha, that’s definitely not what’s meant by the name. In fact, some politicians used the term “wiseman” as an insult to the Council when it was established in 1962. Since then, the term has stuck even though it is rather strange. Economic advisor (“wiseman”) actually means “member of the chairmanship” while chief economic advisor (“chief wiseman”) refers to the “chairman of the chairmanship”. However, not many people are familiar with these terms. That being said, my children do get a bit confused at Christmas time when they hear stories about the three wise men (laughs).

As an economic advisor or “wiseman”, you’re not necessarily wiser than everyone else, but you do have a lot of experience in the field of economics. Typically, economic advisors are professors from Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen, and the resigning advisors are responsible for appointing their successors. In other words, it’s not a job that you apply for.

You must be very busy?

I am, because naturally the position involves a lot of tasks, travelling and meetings. This is bound to come at a cost - both personally and professionally. For one thing, I don’t have as much time to carry out research as I might have liked. However, I do try to stay up-to-date with the latest knowledge in the field and have co-authored a number of articles.

What do you get up to when you´re not working?

I spend time with my family. I have three children and live in Risskov with my wife, who’s a  museum curator at Gammel Estrup – The Danish Manor Museum, and our two youngest children - a girl of eight and a boy of 12. Our oldest daughter died four years ago at the age of 14. She was born with severe brain damage, and the doctors didn’t think that she would live for as long as she actually did. But she was very ill. It was a tough time...and it’s still tough...

Apart from that, I spend my time doing ordinary stuff; I drive my kids to their leisure activities, watch football with my son, drink wine, spend time with friends and family, go running in the forest, read books and listen to music. And go for long walks with our dog Molly.

Are you good at taking time off?

Not always. One of the perks of being a researcher is that you’re able to structure your own time. However, it can be difficult to switch off your brain when you get home. I guess not able to turn off your thoughts and ideas at 4 o’clock is part of being a researcher. It is for me, anyway. As Chief Economic Advisor, I might also have to respond to specific cases or issues even though it’s the weekend. This means that I’m not always that good at taking time off, but I do try and I actually think that I’ve improved a bit. However, I very much doubt that my family would agree with me on that one.

FACTS

  • The Danish Economic Councils consist of the Economic Council and the Environmental Economic Council. The councils are responsible for “monitoring Denmark’s economy” and “examining the interaction between the environment and the economy”.
  • The two councils are governed by a joint chairmanship consisting of four independent economists referred to as “economic advisors” or “economic wise men”. The chairman of the chairmanship is called the Chief Economic Advisor (the chief wise man)
  • The chairmanship of the Danish Economic Councils delivers independent analyses of the Danish economy. The analyses constitute an independent contribution to the decision making process in Danish economic politics (source: www.dors.dk)
  • Read more about the Danish Economic Councils
  • Read more about Michael Svarer
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