HPU Welcomes Home Prominent Oxford Economist

HPU Welcomes Home Prominent Oxford Economist: Q&A with Gerard Dericks, Ph.D.

Gerard Dericks

Gerard Dericks, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at HPU. He leads all aspects of the Center’s mission and activities at the university. The Center’s primary focus now is to launch its “Teach the Teacher” certification course at HPU, which is specifically designed for high school social studies and economics teachers. This education will equip Hawaiʻi’s teachers to teach modules in basic economics with free market principles. Teachers will then take these principles and share them with their high school students.   

Dericks received his Ph.D. in real estate economics from the London School of Economics. He has taught at the London School of Economics, University of Bath, and the University of Oxford, where he was lead economist on the NaturEtrade project and a post-doctoral research fellow. His research has been featured in The Economist, Financial Times, Nikkei Business, BBC, CBS, Science Magazine, Nature, Physics World, BizEd, Psychology Today, and Times Higher Education.  He is also founding director of the Hawai‘i-based academic summer school World Scholars Academy

Dericks spoke to The  ‘Ohana  in November 2021. 


The ‘Ohana: Please tell me about your background and where you grew up. 


Gerard Dericks: I was born and raised in Hawaiʻi. I went to high school at Mid-Pacific Institute. I participated in their theatre program, among other activities. After I graduated, I attended HPU for a time. But after growing up in Hawaii I decided I wanted to go out and explore the world.  


Did attending HPU inspire you to go out and see the world? 


Sure. HPU was extremely international, even then. We had many Scandinavian students, students from Japan, Europe, too. It was a big attraction to study at HPU. I was familiar with Hawaiʻi and wanted to see more of the world, so I went to Japan to earn my undergraduate degree.  


Why Japan? 


Growing up in Hawaiʻi, we have a strong Japanese cultural influence, and it is a very useful language to know. I was young and wanted to see that part of the world. I lived and studied in the southernmost main island, near Fukuoka. I attended university there for four years. 


What was your major? 


Business management. And it turned out that we had a great supervisor for our dissertations. He had a brilliant intellect, and we admired him a great deal. He had earned his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics (LSE). So, a number of us thought we would apply there for a master’s degree. The best students in his class applied and we got in!  


What a great opportunity.  


Yes. I did well in my program there, and they asked me to do a Ph.D., and that appealed to me a lot. I studied real estate economics at LSE. After finishing my master’s, I felt like a pilot who only knew how to press the autopilot button in their understanding the economic world. And I thought well, in doing a Ph.D., I could really understand things more deeply. And that really appealed to me a lot. So, I accepted the offer. 


Have you been back to Japan since graduating from LSE? 


I did. In 2016. I went back for a work assignment when I was at Oxford. We did a report on some power plants that were being proposed to be built. 


What drew you to attend HPU as a freshman? 


I love the entrepreneurship environment of HPU. You could decide things quickly within HPU. I was a bit spontaneous. And the tennis coach, Henry Sommerville, recruited me to play tennis.  


HPU’s tennis team is always very impressive. 


Yes. We were national runners-up back in 2001.  


What interested you initially about economics? 


I think it goes back to living in Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi experienced the same type of a boom-and-bust economic environment in the late-80s and 90s. It was very fascinating to me, and I wanted to understand what was going on.  


You studied real estate economics at LSE. Do you see a similar real estate bubble now in Hawaiʻi when compared to the 80s and 90s?  


We see market pundits predicting bubbles constantly. Everyone thinks they can market time, but it’s usually all in their minds. Housing prices are high in Hawaiʻi, and guess what, they can get higher! There is no reason why they will not go higher. So, rather than a short-term or medium-term predictions for the future, let’s talk long-term. 




Given the state of policy and economics, generally, I see housing prices continuing to be more unaffordable in Hawaiʻi. Unless something changes, like someone comes along to help increase economic education throughout Hawaiʻi. 


Which brings us to your work with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education at HPU.     


Right. I think that some people do not understand cause and effect when it comes to economics. They have models in their head that are incorrect. That leads to bad policy and bad outcomes like housing affordability. If you own housing it’s great, but if you don’t it’s a tragedy. The question is, what do we want to do? Maybe the best possible outcome would be to relax development restrictions enough to prevent prices from going any higher.  This would probably comprise both allocating new land to housing and allowing the existing supply to build taller and denser.   


We do have a shortage of land.   


If you are land constrained the rational solution is to substitute land with capital. That is to say, to build taller and denser structures on the land that you do have.  


Do you see any parallels to land in Hawaiʻi to land in Japan? The availability of livable land is quite limited in Japan and in some cases in Hawaiʻi as well. 


Sure. There are a lot of similarities between Japan and Hawaiʻi. We could build more in Hawaiʻi. We would need to build up. But remember, everything is a trade-off! Would you rather have another thousand 50-story buildings on Oahu and your housing bill goes down 60%? Or would you rather have a better view of the ocean when you go hiking and pay what you are paying now regarding housing? The choice is yours.  

There are several places we can build more densely on Oahu. Increase supply and decrease prices with minimal effects on other people’s enjoyment of the environment. There are always trade-offs. Remember, we are sacrificing more affordable housing when we say “no.” Is that trade-off really the one that we should be making with our available resources? Something to really consider.  


What is your mission at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education, and where do you see yourself in the year ahead? 


My primary focus over the next nine months to a year is the rollout of our “Teach the Teacher” program. The idea behind this is to empower Hawaiʻi to tackle its most pressing economic problems through better economic understanding, which should lead to better policy. We are going teach our youth, give them a solid background in economics, and a greater appreciation for entrepreneurial values both in their society and in their own lives.  


Will you be teaching both private and public high school teachers? 


We want to bring on private schools and charter schools. But from my understanding our programming will be most popular with public high school teachers. Mainly because the teachers will be getting credit for taking the course and this will help for their salary scales. The course will be accredited. It will be for teachers that are passionate about economics and for those interested in getting an accreditation. This will make our teachers even more valuable in our community.         


Will this be a free course for teachers to take? 


In the longer term it will be free. In the shorter term, I am pursuing both having a course at HPU and a course that is independently certified by the Department of Education. We want to get something available right away. That can be done through HPU more quickly, so we are pursuing both avenues simultaneously. With HPU, it should be quite heavily subsidized, or free, but we cannot say that for sure yet.   

The courses will be on the weekends and will be 24 hours of contact time. It could be as fast as two weekends. Right now, economics teaching is limited at the high school level except for AP economics at some schools.  


When teachers take what they learned into the classrooms, this will quite possibly be students’ first economics exposure in the classroom. 


Exactly. Very exciting stuff.  


It will be a great way for high school seniors to really think about entrepreneurship and economics early on in their lives. 


That’s right. Students will have a better understanding on what they can do. Hawaiʻi’s economy has become more diversified. There is more potential now in this digital age. Working from home has become more acceptable. Even if it could be done pre-pandemic, it was not as acceptable as it is now. 


Did you have any interesting high-school jobs or odd jobs while a student? 


When I was an undergrad student in Japan I started a restaurant in my dorm. 


In your dorm? How did that work? 


It was a breakfast restaurant. It was a little ridiculous! We had a dorm building and I advertised that I would make you breakfast. It worked, but it sure was a lot of work. It was enjoyable to me. It was funny. I liked to make breakfast at the time.  


What’s your idea of perfect happiness? 


Seeing a vision of yours coming into fruition. It’s a beautiful journey.