Showing posts with label Profiles of Economists.   Show all posts

Putting Economic Policy to the Test: An economist’s real-life experiments yield surprising results

A F&D profile of Esther Duflo:

“IT IS A CAPITAL MISTAKE to theorize before one has data,” Sherlock Holmes remarks to his friend Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Development economist Esther Duflo would probably agree.

A slight, intense, 31-year-old with dark hair and eyes and the harried air of someone with too much to do in too little time, Duflo, a native of France, is part of a rising group of young economists who are questioning traditional development strategies. Her modest office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is Castle Krob Development Associate Professor of Economics, is decorated with textiles from India and Indonesia, two of the developing countries in which she has done research.

Describing her methods, Duflo says that she works “in a very micro way. My projects always consider one simple, stripped-down question having to do with how people react within a certain context.” Typically, her question has to do with how a selected program in a developing country has affected the poor people it was designed to benefit. She amasses huge amounts of data in the field, in collaboration with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academics, and then subjects the data to rigorous econometric analysis to determine the program’s impact.

Although she considers her questions “simple,” her goal is anything but. Indeed, research carried out by Duflo and her peers is challenging some of the cherished assumptions on which many development policies are based. For example, in a study of Indonesia’s massive school construction program (the country built over 61,000 primary schools in 1974–78), Duflo found that, while workers who were educated in the new schools received higher wages, the wages of older workers in the same districts increased more slowly from year to year, apparently because the market was flooded with graduates from the new schools and capital formation did not keep up with the increase in human capital. These findings, she concluded, “are important because, contrary to what is often assumed (on the basis of the experience of Southeast Asian countries), acceleration in the rate of accumulation of human capital is not necessarily accompanied by economic growth.”

Studying real people in real environments is central to Duflo’s approach. In a paper she wrote in 2003, “Poor but Rational?” she speculates that there may be “more to learn about human behavior from the choices made by Kenyan farmers confronted with a real choice than from those made by American undergraduates in laboratory conditions.”

Continue reading here.

A F&D profile of Esther Duflo:

“IT IS A CAPITAL MISTAKE to theorize before one has data,” Sherlock Holmes remarks to his friend Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Development economist Esther Duflo would probably agree.

A slight, intense, 31-year-old with dark hair and eyes and the harried air of someone with too much to do in too little time, Duflo, a native of France, is part of a rising group of young economists who are questioning traditional development strategies.

Read the full article…

Posted by at 10:23 AM

Labels: Profiles of Economists

Public economics and public policy: The ideas and influence of Martin Feldstein, 1939-2019

From a VOX post by James Poterba and Lawrence H. Summers:

“Martin Feldstein, who passed away in June 2019, was one of the most important applied economists of the last half-century. This column, by two of his students and close colleagues, celebrates his intellectual legacy, outlining his seminal contributions on a wide range of topics in public economics and beyond, his pioneering use of large data sets, and his influential voice in US public policy over many decades. As president of the National Bureau of Economic Research for nearly 30 years, Feldstein advanced the conduct and dissemination of economic research, and helped to create the modern economics profession.”

See my profile of Martin Feldstein here.

From a VOX post by James Poterba and Lawrence H. Summers:

“Martin Feldstein, who passed away in June 2019, was one of the most important applied economists of the last half-century. This column, by two of his students and close colleagues, celebrates his intellectual legacy, outlining his seminal contributions on a wide range of topics in public economics and beyond, his pioneering use of large data sets, and his influential voice in US public policy over many decades.

Read the full article…

Posted by at 9:58 AM

Labels: Profiles of Economists

RIP Marty Feldstein

Marty Feldstein passed away at the age of 79. He was the first person I wrote a profile of when I joined the IMF’s public relations department in the 2000s. He was very pleasant and very patient during the interview, but got irritated when the photographer asked him to remove his glasses for the photograph. “The glasses stay on,” he said firmly. See the photograph and read my profile of Marty.

 

Marty Feldstein passed away at the age of 79. He was the first person I wrote a profile of when I joined the IMF’s public relations department in the 2000s. He was very pleasant and very patient during the interview, but got irritated when the photographer asked him to remove his glasses for the photograph. “The glasses stay on,” he said firmly. See the photograph and read my profile of Marty.

 

Read the full article…

Posted by at 9:50 AM

Labels: Profiles of Economists

The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics

From Vox:

“If Harvard has a most famous course, it’s Economics 10.

The introductory economics class is reliablyone of the most popular courses offered to undergraduates. It’s usually taught in a massive Hogwartsian auditorium, where hundreds of students either dutifully take notes or mess around on laptops as one of the school’s star economists leads them through the basics of supply and demand.

Because Harvard has a tendency to set the pattern for other universities, Ec 10’s textbook is a massive best-seller, used at dozens of other schools, earning its author, professor Greg Mankiw, an estimated $42 million in royalties since it was first released in 1998. Mankiw’s introduction to economics has set the tone not just at Harvard but for how Econ 101 is taught across the country.

Mankiw’s textbook covers the abstract theory that underpins economics as it has been understood for decades. It is about supply and demand, about how prices can be used to match production of a good to its consumption, and about the power of markets as a tool for allocating scarce resources. Students in Ec 10 are asked to plot supply and demand curves, to solve simple word problems about what happens when the mayor of Smalltown, USA, imposes a tax on hotel rooms.

The idea is to impart a basic theory, to lay a foundation for understanding how society works. And that theory strongly implies that markets tend to work without much intervention, and that things like minimum wages might hurt more than help.

But another Harvard economist has a different idea of how to introduce students to economics.

Raj Chetty, a prominent faculty member whom Harvard recently poached back from Stanford, this spring unveiled “Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems.” Taught with the help of lecturer Greg Bruich, the class garnered 375 students, including 363 undergrads, in its first term. That’s still behind the 461 in Ec 10 — but not by much.”

Continue reading here.

Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Harvard University, poses for a portrait at the Opportunity Insights offices. (Kayana Szymczak for Vox)

From Vox:

“If Harvard has a most famous course, it’s Economics 10.

The introductory economics class is reliablyone of the most popular courses offered to undergraduates. It’s usually taught in a massive Hogwartsian auditorium, where hundreds of students either dutifully take notes or mess around on laptops as one of the school’s star economists leads them through the basics of supply and demand.

Because Harvard has a tendency to set the pattern for other universities,

Read the full article…

Posted by at 4:05 PM

Labels: Profiles of Economists

From Harvard to the IMF

From Harvard Gazette:

“Gita Gopinath, Harvard’s John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics, was appointed last month as economic counselor and director of research for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), becoming the chief economist of the powerful financial organization.

The role encompasses everything from helping determine financial assistance to countries to leading research by a vast department of economists. Gopinath’s appointment comes at an especially challenging time, as more countries are seeing a move away from globalization, and grappling with economic uncertainty. The Gazette caught up with Gopinath, who is also a faculty associate in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, to get her views on the biggest challenges facing the IMF today, what her priorities will be, and how she feels as the first woman in the job.

Q&A

GAZETTE: What was your reaction when you found out you were being offered this position?

GOPINATH: I was thrilled and honored. There were two rounds of interviews, but everything went very quickly. And I was very touched by the kind words of Managing Director Christine Lagarde and more generally by the reaction from family, friends, and colleagues to the announcement. My parents were flooded with congratulatory messages, which was a nice feeling. This is a very exciting job for me, given the areas that I work in as an international macroeconomist. There is really no other place in the world where I can work with such a large number of highly qualified international macroeconomists, and that is a great source of excitement for me. So I was very pleased, and very honored because I know that there were other good people who could have been given the job.

GAZETTE: Could you tell us a little bit about the role, and what your responsibilities will be?

GOPINATH: In terms of the job itself, there are two main parts. One is director of research, which oversees a department with about 100 economists who provide intellectual leadership on important policy questions. The questions range from if and how countries should manage international capital flows to how do we address growing inequality. The second part is serving as an economic counselor, giving advice to senior management of the fund on broad policy questions but also on providing financial assistance to countries. So there is always the question of how do you formulate a package to a given country? What kind of program do you design for them? I’m really looking forward to providing advice on those sorts of questions.

GAZETTE: What are some of the biggest issues IMF is facing right now?

GOPINATH: The one that is absolutely clear and present is that we are seeing the first serious retreat from globalization. This has not happened in the past 50 or 60 years, when the world moved toward lower tariffs and increasing trade across countries. Over the past several months, we have the U.S.-imposed tariffs and retaliation to them from China and other nations. There is in general growing uncertainty about trade policy, including with Brexit [the British move to leave the European Union]. While trade has reduced global poverty and raised livelihoods, its consequences for inequality, and on whether the rules of engagement are fair, are real concerns that need to be addressed.

There is also a concern about whether we have the right multilateral institutions and frameworks in place to make sure everybody feels that there is fairness in trade. And the same goes for capital flows. Foreign direct investment [FDI] was always viewed very favorably by countries. But because most FDI is now in tech-heavy firms, there are growing concerns about national security and international property theft. So I believe this retreat from globalization and this retreat from multilateralism is quite unique to the times we are living in.

Another important concern is the health of emerging markets as the U.S. continues to normalize its interest rates. Capital flows to several markets have reversed, putting pressure on their exchange rates and consequently on inflation, and on balance sheets, given that several emerging markets borrow heavily in dollars.

GAZETTE: Could you talk more about Brexit and the trend away from globalization? Do you see this trend as still being on the rise, or has it peaked already?

GOPINATH: I’d like to think we are at a peak right now, but we might stay there for a little while. How soon will things de-escalate? That is far from obvious. And that itself is a problem because large amounts of uncertainty do not help with economic growth. We have plenty of evidence that when you have uncertainty about policy, there are significant negative consequences. There is a genuine concern that, even if things de-escalate now, they can get bad again quickly in the future, so there is no point at which we can say we have a permanent resolution.

At this time a year ago, the world was actually in a very nice sweet spot. For the first time since the financial crisis, advanced markets, developing countries, and emerging markets were all growing and doing better than they had in the previous year. So the expectation was that 2018 would be a good year for the world economy. It is interesting to see how that changed so quickly over the last six months. We now have the phenomenon of a great divergence between the U.S., which has been growing fast, and the rest of the world. So while Europe seemed like it had recovered, things have been slowing down. Emerging markets have taken a big hit across the board — both oil-producing and oil-consuming countries have suffered. I believe we are looking at a period of sizable uncertainty and a period where the downside risks are significant.

GAZETTE: What do you think contributed to the shift away from a period of consistent growth in various markets to where we are now?

GOPINATH: A couple of things changed rather unexpectedly. Not many anticipated the severity of the trade conflicts in 2018. This has slowed growth in China, which, given its importance in world markets, has negatively impacted other countries. Secondly, commodity prices were expected to rise, but at a moderate pace. Geopolitical tensions in the world led to a sharp rise in commodity prices that was a negative shock for oil importers like India. The idiosyncratic problems in Argentina, Turkey, and Italy surfaced. What was expected was that the U.S. Fed would raise interest rates, and it has continued to do so in a predictable and gradual manner, but the new reality in terms of geopolitical tensions and escalation in trade conflicts has exacerbated the negative spillovers from these interest rate increases.”

Continue reading here.

 

Gita Gopinath, the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics at Harvard University was recently appointed as Chief Economist with the International Monetary Fund, IMF. Here she is seen in her Littauer Building office. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

From Harvard Gazette:

“Gita Gopinath, Harvard’s John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and of Economics, was appointed last month as economic counselor and director of research for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), becoming the chief economist of the powerful financial organization.

The role encompasses everything from helping determine financial assistance to countries to leading research by a vast department of economists. Gopinath’s appointment comes at an especially challenging time,

Read the full article…

Posted by at 3:40 PM

Labels: Profiles of Economists

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