Economist

Born: November 25, 1940;

Died: January 1, 2017

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PROFESSOR Ross MacKay, who has died at the age of 76, was an economist like his older brother Sir Donald MacKay, who died in November. His own work focused particularly on problems of unemployment and regional development, and he steadfastly maintained a Keynesian stance throughout the years of dominance of neoliberal economics.

In particular Professor MacKay was influential in contributing to the understanding which emerged during the later 1990s that official figures no longer adequately measured the true scale of UK unemployment, because so many long-term unemployed people had come to be categorised as sick or disabled. As he put it, the general rule is that the greater the degree of labour market slack, the less appropriate unemployment is as a measure of labour reserve.

Consequently he maintained that the UK’s problems of worklessness could not be addressed by pure supply-side policies such as training and education but required action to increase demand for labour in the communities stricken by deindustrialisation.

This was a major contribution at a time when the UK economic establishment had persuaded themselves that the country had recovered smoothly from the job losses of the 1980s and 1990s – a view which is now universally accepted as having been too complacent.

In the early 1970s, Professor MacKay also did some of the classic pioneering work on the impact of regional policy, providing essential confirmation that it does indeed work, and that the orders of magnitude identified by earlier researchers were correct. He will be remembered for his ability to place contemporary issues in a broader historical context, something that is not done often enough.

Ronald Ross MacKay was born in Delhi, India in 1940 to William and Rhona MacKay, before the family moved back to Cromarty, where he was brought up. He used to joke that he was the last decent product of the British Raj, and always claimed to be a “Cromarty Gudgie” at heart.

Like his brother, he was educated at Dollar Academy and at the University of Aberdeen. He lectured at the University of Newcastle from 1965, where he met his wife Christine, before moving in 1979 to the University of Wales at Bangor as a senior lecturer and later professor. There he spent the rest of his career.

He was a strong supporter of the Regional Studies Association and regarded as one of their star speakers, with a great sense of humour. He inspired many younger researchers to look at unemployment and regional issues and they very much appreciated his support and guidance. His papers attracted interest from developing areas of the world and he frequently travelled to them in an advisory or consultancy role.

He was a keen golfer, serving as captain and president of the Bangor St Deiniol Golf Club, and was a particular admirer of the Royal Dornoch course. He and Christine loved to travel, and as a family they camped regularly on the continent.

Ross MacKay died at Eryri Hospital, Caernarfon and his funeral was at Bangor on 12 January. He is survived by his wife Christine, son Ranald, daughter Antonia (Toni) and grandchildren Rhona, Hamish and Cameron.

DAVID WEBSTER