Fraser Forum

Stephen T. Easton, economics professor, Fraser Institute senior fellow, mentor

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Stephen T. Easton, economics professor, Fraser Institute senior fellow, mentor

It’s with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Fraser Institute senior fellow Stephen Easton on March 17, 2024. For more than 40 years, Professor Easton taught economics at Simon Fraser University, influencing thousands of students with his passion for economics. I was fortunate to be one of those students. And for more than 40 years, he was a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, an organization I’ve had the privilege of being with for over two decades. The significant overlap in our paths is not merely coincidental.

I first met Prof. Easton in my third year at Simon Fraser University when I took his international trade course. He must have sensed my passion for economics, as he spent many hours talking individually with me during his office hours. He encouraged me to take his Economics of Crime course, and his fourth-year seminar in International Trade. Ultimately, Steve was my honours thesis project supervisor and gave me guidance and critical feedback. It was at the end of my honours course when Steve let me know he wouldn’t give me a grade (which I needed to graduate) unless I applied to graduate school in economics. I sensed he was half joking but never was sure. At that time, I had my heart set on law school, but Steve convinced me (he would say, properly incentivized me) to do my master’s in economics first. I did and never looked back. Steve was also one of my supervisors for my masters thesis.

Steve and I kept in touch after I graduated and even did a project together for the Justice Department on the size of the underground economy. In 2002, I received an email from Steve, who mentioned that the Fraser Institute was looking for a senior economist. He strongly recommended I apply. I had first learned of the Fraser Institute by attending one of its seminars for university students, which Steve had advertised on his office door. I had no idea he was a senior fellow with the institute, and looking back, I am certain I would not have been hired without Steve’s strong reference.

Steve’s tenure with the Fraser Institute dates back over 40 years when he co-authored a study, Focus On World-wide Inflation (bad ideas do come back into vogue, as Steve would say). He subsequently became involved in a series of conferences involving leading economists from around the world, led by Fraser Institute founder Michael Walker and Nobel prize-winning Economist Milton Friedman, attempting to establish an empirical framework for measuring economic freedom.

Steve made an important contribution to that process by co-editing, with Michael Walker, selected papers (including two of Steve’s own) presented at two of those conferences for the Institute’s book Rating Global Economic Freedom (1992), which was described as “a decisive step forward in the intellectual development of the concept of economic freedom.”

By then, Steve had started contributing to another area of great interest to him: education policy. His book Education in Canada: An Analysis of Elementary, Secondary and Vocational Schooling (1987) was the institute’s first foray into this area.

Steve’s next major contribution was in collaborating with Peter Cowley and Michael Walker to develop A Secondary Schools Report Card for British Columbia (1998)—the first in the institute’s longstanding series of report cards that now cover elementary and secondary schools in Canada’s largest provinces. While the usual suspects have consistently attacked these report cards, they are widely popular with parents—the institute’s interactive website, which facilitates comparison of school rankings, welcomes nearly one million unique visitors annually.

Steve also made great contributions to the institute’s work in the area of crime research, which was one of his passions. With fellow SFU professor Paul Brantingham, he wrote three papers: The Crime Bill: Who Pays and How Much? (1996); The Costs of Crime: Who Pays and How Much? (1998); and The Cost of Crime in Canada: 2014 Report (2014). His signal contribution in this area, however, was his very influential study Marijuana Growth in B.C. (2004).

In addition to these contributions, Steve often took the time to attend our all-staff Monday morning meetings and was a mentor to many young Fraser Institute analysts and economists, myself included. He always found time to discuss projects and helped sharpen our public speaking skills.

Looking back, sometimes life can look like a random walk of coincidences where a few select people have a material impact on the direction of your life. For me, meeting Steve Easton materially impacted my life. I likely would not have become an economist without Steve’s influence, and I likely would not have landed a job at the Fraser Institute.

Thank you, Steve, for everything you have done for me and for countless students whom you took the time to help (I personally know dozens who were massively impacted by you, with similar stories to mine).

Thank you, Steve, for your immense contributions to the Fraser Institute, which have furthered our understanding of economic freedom, the costs of crime, and how to measure them properly.

Thank you, Steve, for your contributions to measuring school performance across Canada. Your work has improved the lives of millions of students and parents.

Most of all, thank you, Steve, for being such a wonderful person, always interested, always helpful.

May you rest in peace.

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