Nicholas Gruen (born 1957) is a prominent Australian economist and commentator on innovation and the CEO of Lateral Economics and Chairman of the Open Knowledge Foundation (Australia). He was formerly Chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation, the Australian Government's Innovation Australia and founding chairman of Kaggle. Lindsay Tanner has described him as "Australia's foremost public intellectual".
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Gruen has a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Melbourne and a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours in History from the Australian National University. He has a PhD from the Australian National University.
Gruen worked as adviser to Senator and Federal Industry Minister John Button from the early 1980s and was regarded as the architect of the Button car plan, which moved the industry towards freer trade, eliminating quotas, reducing tariffs and assisting exports. From 1990 to 1993 he worked as economic adviser to Treasurer John Dawkins. He was appointed to the Productivity Commission on which he served from 1993 until his departure in the late 1990s to join the Business Council of Australia where he directed the BCA's New Directions project. In 2000 he founded, economic consultancy Lateral Economics and a discount finance broker that rebates part of its commission to borrowers Peach Home Loans. In this period he has advised Federal and State Governments as a consultant and as member or chair of various government appointed committees. From 2008 to 2012 Gruen was a board member of Sustainability Victoria. He is a member of the Council of the National Library of Australia. In 2011 he was appointed to the board of Innovation Australia and was subsequently appointed as its chair.
Gruen has become prominent in public economic discussion. He had a regular economic column for the Courier Mail and later wrote regularly for the Australian Financial Review. He has also is a regular contributor to the popular blog Club Troppo and was an author on On Line Opinion. He has held visiting fellowships at the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.
He built the Herald/Age Lateral Economics (HALE) Index of Wellbeing which augments official national income measures to take account of the implications of changes in inequality, human capital, natural capital, and major health issues such as life expectancy, mental illness and obesity.
He has mounted the public case for a range of reforms including
- refashioning the institutions of government budgeting in the image of monetary policy to inject greater independence and flexibility into fiscal policy as a macro-economic instrument.
- allowing people to access their superannuation savings (pension plan) to help raise a house deposit
- improving information flows in a range of markets such as labour markets (on relative safety and job quality) and markets for professional services (on service quality and likely outcomes).
- building digital public private partnerships to enable services such as 23andMe to be provided as free public goods rather than private goods by subscription
- giving citizens and business direct access to central banking services to level the playing field between them and commercial banks
He was a member of the Federal Government's Review of the Australian Innovation System in 2008 and chaired the Government 2.0 Taskforce for the Australian Government. The Government subsequently accepted all of the major recommendations of the Taskforce. In 2013 he joined a review panel on Pharmaceutical Patent Extensions.
Gruen was also the first investor in Kaggle (a Melbourne-based data analytics company founded in 2010) serving as its first chairman.
In 2014 Gruen suggested a radical bank reform that would solve a range of problems. According to Gruen ordinary people should be able to use central banks' services as commercial banks can. For big commercial banks get high margins or fees but don't add much value to those services. Due to the internet the Bank of England for instance could easily extend its services to everyone in the UK. For one thing it should offer deposit and savings account to all.
- Supratim Adhikari (4 Nov 2011). "Local start-up Kaggle raises $US11 million, appoints PayPal co-founder as chairman". Technology Spectator.
- http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/central_banking_for_all.pdf Gruen, Central banking for all