MIT faculty continue to advance economic research and to garner widespread accolades and prestigious recognitions for their work. The highlight of the 2017-18 academic year was the awarding of the American Economic Association’s (AEA) John Bates Clark Medal, given each year to the best economist in the nation under age 40, to Parag Pathak, the Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics. Professor Pathak’s groundbreaking work on matching markets has not only profoundly influenced economic thought, but also directly led to improved school choice matching algorithms around the nation. Pathak joins four past Clark medalists on the active MIT Economics faculty: Daron Acemoglu, Dave Donaldson, Esther Duflo, and Amy Finkelstein.
A selection of the many other honors and awards of the past year include: Amy Finkelstein was elected to the National Academy of Sciences; Parag Pathak and Nancy Rose were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Dave Donaldson was elected fellow of the Econometric Society; Daron Acemoglu received an honorary doctorate from the Ecole Normale Superieure Paris-Saclay; David Autor was recognized by Bloomberg as one of the “50 People Who Defined Global Business”; Victor Chernozhukov was awarded the Bessel Prize from the German Humboldt Research Foundation; recent Nobel Prize winner Bengt Holmstrom was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Lion of Finland; Nancy Rose was named the 2018 Distinguished Fellow of the Industrial Organization Society; and Robert Townsend received the Financial Intermediation Research Society (FIRS) Lifetime Achievement Award.
MIT faculty extend their professional impact through leadership at top economics journals and of national and international professional societies. Esther Duflo serves as editor of the American Economic Review (AER), the flagship journal for the AEA; Amy Finkelstein is the inaugural editor of the new AEA journal AER: Economic Insights, intended to promote rapid dissemination of shorter papers in economics; and Alexander Wolitzky was invited to serve as foreign editor for the Review of Economic Studies. Drew Fudenberg completed his term as president of the Econometric Society this year; Jonathan Gruber served as president of the American Society of Health Economists; Robert Townsend was elected president of the Society of the Advancement of Economic Theory. MIT Economics continues to be well-represented in the leadership of the National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER), headlined by Mitsui Professor of Economics and NBER President James Poterba. David Autor is co-director of the NBER Labor Studies Program, Amy Finkelstein co-directs Public Economics, Robert Gibbons directs the Organizational Economics working group, and Jonathan Gruber directs Health Care.
In addition to pursuit of their individual research agendas, many department faculty are leading collaborative research initiatives that span a wide range of researchers and research sponsors. Joining the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL and J-PAL North America) and the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) are a number of new initiatives that focus on the dramatic changes ongoing in labor markets. Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, and John Van Reenen co-direct a department initiative on The Future of Work; and David Autor is co-directing both a J-PAL experiment-based Future of Work initiative and an MIT-wide Task Force on Work of the Future.
The department’s commitment to advancing leading-edge research is paired with a focus on enhancing the quality of economics education at MIT and beyond. At the graduate level, the department is committed to offering the best doctoral education in economics available anywhere. In 2018, Economics partnered with MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) to create a joint PhD degree in Economics and Statistics. This will enable students to deepen their exposure to the foundational statistics, theory, and empirical methods at the cutting edge of data science, preparing our most technically sophisticated students to advance the theoretical and empirical research frontiers in the use of “big data” in economic analyses. The department, largely through its faculty and staff affiliated with J-PAL, offers a blended Master’s Program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy, which combines online instruction through MITx with an opportunity for a selected set of students to complete the degree on campus. The first students will arrive on campus in 2020.
The department also has built on its investments in transforming undergraduate economics education. Successful collaboration with Course 6 led to the introduction in 2017 of a new undergraduate economics major, 6-14, Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science. Motivation for this was similar to that for the Economics and Statistics PhD program. Student interest in this new offering has been immediate and strong, with the 36 students in the major in AY18 more than doubled by the class of 2021. Individual faculty also have made substantial contributions to MIT undergraduate education. Of particular note, Joshua Angrist was involved in the reconsideration of MIT’s first year experience through his service on the Committee on the Undergraduate Program; David Autor was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow for excellence in undergraduate teaching; and Associate Professor Anna Mikusheva was awarded the Everrett Moore Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2018.
The department embraces engagement with the broader MIT community. Educational initiatives include programs like the Undergraduate Economics Association (UEA) lecture series and Independent Activities Period (IAP) offerings. An IAP highlight this year was a symposium on the State of the Union, an all-day event which featured panels on topics such as financial market regulation, tax and fiscal policy, and political economy, and included a wide range of Economics Department faculty, faculty from other departments and universities, and former policy-makers. This event was popular enough to be held in the large lecture hall 26-100 and was widely attended throughout the day.
MIT faculty also strive to improve the access and quality of economics education available to learners well beyond the MIT campus. Department faculty have invested in a set of MITx courses that make MIT-level instruction available to thousands of students online. Faculty members also have recognized exposure to economics may begin for many students at the high school level, and in courses that are less technically demanding than those at MIT. The quality of resources and instruction may be quite uneven across schools for students in these pools. Seizing on the opportunities this provides, Jonathan Gruber has partnered with MITx to develop an online Advanced Placement Microeconomics course.