How Stanford Took On the Giants of Economics
The center of gravity for economic thought in the United States has long been found along the two miles in Cambridge, Mass., that run between Harvard University and M.I.T. But there is new competition for that title, and it is quite a bit farther west.
Stanford University has lured an all-star lineup of economists to Palo Alto, Calif., in the last few years — and fended off Harvard’s and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s attempts to woo Stanford economists.
The newest Stanford professors include a Nobel laureate — Alvin E. Roth, formerly of Harvard — but the shift is more noticeable among top young economists. Of the 11 people who have won the John Bates Clark Medal for best economist under age 40 since 2000, four are now at Stanford, more than at any other university. Two of them joined in the last few months: the inequality researcher Raj Chetty, who came from Harvard, and Matthew Gentzkow, who left the University of Chicago.
最新加盟斯坦福的教授包括诺贝尔奖获得者、原先在哈佛的阿尔文·E·罗斯(Alvin E. Roth)，然而最能体现潮流涌动的是，那些顶尖青年经济学家的去向。自2000年以来的11位约翰·贝茨·克拉克奖(John Bates Clark Medal)“40岁以下最佳经济学家”得主中，有四人现在斯坦福，比任何大学都多。其中两人是过去几个月里加入的，他们是原在哈佛研究不平等问题的拉杰·切蒂(Raj Chetty)，以及从芝加哥大学转投斯坦福的马修·基恩茨科夫(Matthew Gentzkow)。
Stanford’s success with economists is part of a larger campaign to stake a claim as the country’s top university. Its draw combines a status as the nation’s “it” university — now with the lowest undergraduate acceptance rate and a narrow No. 2 behind Harvard for the biggest fund-raising haul — with its proximity to many of the world’s most dynamic companies. Its battle with Eastern universities echoes fights in other industries in which established companies, whether hotels or automobile makers, are being challenged by Silicon Valley money and entrepreneurship.
And it is a reflection of a broader shift in the study of economics, in which the most cutting-edge work increasingly relies less on a big-brained individual scholar developing mathematical theories, and more on the ability to crunch extensive sets of data to glean insights about topics as varied as how incomes differ across society and how industries organize themselves.
“Who wouldn’t want to be where the future of the world is being made?” said Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University (and regular contributor to The New York Times) who often blogs about trends in academic economics. Stanford’s economics department, he said, “has an excitement about it which Boston and Cambridge can’t touch.”
“一个为世界营造未来的地方，谁不想去呢？”乔治·梅森大学(George Mason University)经济学家（《纽约时报》长期撰稿人）泰勒·考文(Tyler Cowen)说，他经常通过博客谈论经济学的学术潮流。他说，斯坦福的经济学系“有一种波士顿和坎布里奇没法比拟的活跃气氛”。
In economics, Stanford has frequently been ranked just behind Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton and the University of Chicago, including in the most recent U.S. News & World Report survey of graduate school rankings, conducted in 2013, and in calculations of which department’s scholars are most frequently cited in academic literature. That might change. In the last four years, Stanford has increased the number of senior faculty by 25 percent, and 11 scholars with millions in cumulative salary have either been recruited from other top programs or resisted poaching attempts by those programs.
在经济学界，斯坦福经常被排在哈佛、麻省理工、普林斯顿和芝加哥大学后面，包括《美国新闻与世界报道》(U.S. News & World Report)最近发布的一项2013年的研究生院调查，以及学者论文引用量的计算方面，都是如此。但这一点也许有变。过去四年里，斯坦福的资深教员增加了25%，有11名领受数百万美元累积薪俸的学者，要么是从其他学校的顶尖科系挖来的，要么拒绝这些科系的诱惑留了下来。
That said, Stanford’s reputation in the future may depend less on a few big-name recruits than on its ability to train the Ph.D.s whose scholarship is widely cited and reshapes important economic debates, or who become influential policy makers who advise presidents and lead central banks. The last 10 people to serve as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers have all had a Ph.D. from either Harvard or M.I.T. (the last without one was Janet L. Yellen, who left the job in 1999, and received hers from Yale). Among the Ph.D. economists who have exerted great influence on global economic policy in recent years, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke; the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi; the retiring International Monetary Fund chief economist, Olivier Blanchard; and the Fed vice chairman, Stanley Fischer, all studied at M.I.T.
然而，相比这些大人物的招募，斯坦福的未来更多地要看它培养的博士，他们的学术成就能否得到广泛引用，影响重要的经济学讨论走向，或成为位高权重的政策制定者，不管是作为总统的顾问，还是央行的领导人。最近10任白宫经济顾问委员会主席，都是哈佛或麻省理工的博士（最近一位不是来自这两间学校的是1999年离职的珍妮特·L·耶伦，她是在耶鲁取得博士学位）。近年对全球经济政策有重大影响力的经济学博士中，前美联储主席本·S·伯南克；欧洲央行行长马里奥·德拉吉；即将退休的国际货币基金组织首席经济学家奥利维尔· 布兰查德；联储副主席斯坦利·费希尔(Stanley Fischer)，都出身麻省理工。
Unsurprisingly, many of those with top East Coast programs view Cambridge’s intellectual leadership role as safe. “Stanford’s keen interest in recruiting Harvard faculty is testimony to our strength,” said David Laibson, chairman of the Harvard economics department. “We’ve got a big target on our back because many of the world’s most exciting, creative, and innovative scholars are on our faculty, and Stanford is rightly going for some of them.” He notes that his department has lots of collaboration with other schools at Harvard, and that nearby M.I.T. and the National Bureau of Economic Research create a deep concentration of economic thinking, and said the department is on a recruiting push of its own.
不难想象，在东海岸的许多顶尖科系看来，坎布里奇在知识界的王者地位是不容撼动的。“斯坦福对招募哈佛教员如此上心，正说明了我们的强大，”哈佛经济系主任戴维·莱布森(David Laibson)说。“我们很容易被盯上，因为全世界最振奋人心、最具创造力和革新力的学者中，有许多在我们这里，斯坦福当然会想得到他们。”他指出本系和哈佛其他院系和诸多合作，加之邻近麻省理工和国家经济研究局(National Bureau of Economic Research)，形成了经济学研究工作的高度集中，并且他的系本身也在大举招募人才。
But the recent recruiting success of Stanford shows something broader about how the economics profession is changing. The specialties of the new recruits vary, but they are all examples of how the momentum in economics has shifted away from theoretical modeling and toward “empirical microeconomics,” the analysis of how things work in the real world, often arranging complex experiments or exploiting large sets of data. That kind of work requires lots of research assistants, work across disciplines including fields like sociology and computer science, and the use of advanced computational techniques unavailable a generation ago.
That trend is evident across leading economics departments — the traditional powerhouses have plenty of scholars doing work in the same vein, including work by Esther Duflo at M.I.T. on how to test ways to fight global poverty and by Roland G. Fryer Jr. at Harvard on the roots of racial inequality. But the scholars who have newly signed on with Stanford described a university particularly well suited to research in that vein, with a combination of lab space, strong budgets for research support and proximity to engineering talent.
在所有领先的经济学院系，这种趋势都显而易见——在那些实力强大的传统经济学院系，也有很多学者在进行实证微观经济学类的研究，比如麻省理工的埃斯特·迪弗洛(Esther Duflo)有关如何检验对抗全球贫困的方法的研究，哈佛大学的小罗兰·G·费赖尔(Roland G. Fryer Jr.)在种族不平等的根源方面的研究。但是，最近和斯坦福大学签约的学者们表示，该校尤其适合做这类研究，因为它有实验室空间、充足的研究预算和唾手可得的工程人才。
“I was very happy where I was in Chicago, but it felt like there is a sense of excitement and really building something at Stanford,” Mr. Gentzkow said. “Stanford as a university is in a really strong position right now, and has a lot of resources, and seems very committed to using those resources to build on the frontier of economics.”
Recent hires said that their compensation packages were about the same as their previous employers offered, though in some cases with more generous research budgets. Provost John W. Etchemendy argued that the university’s recruiting had benefited from cross-departmental work as economists share ideas and resources with, for example, computer science and statistics departments.
最新加盟的学者表示，他们的薪酬水平和之前所在的大学差不多，只不过在有些情况下他们手上的科研预算更加宽裕些。教务长约翰·W·埃切门迪(John W. Etchemendy)表示，斯坦福大学的招聘工作从该校的跨院系合作中获益很多，因为经济学家会和诸如计算机科学和统计系的学者交流思想，共享资源。
Mr. Roth, who joined Stanford from Harvard in 2012, cited his own work on kidney transplants as an example. He has led efforts to build a “paired exchange” system through which people who cannot donate a kidney to a loved one because of a mismatch in blood type, antigens or antibodies can instead donate a kidney to a recipient who is a match and who has a donor willing and able to donate to the other recipient. He collaborates with colleagues from the medical and engineering schools. “This gets very computationally complex,” he said.
Mr. Chetty, meanwhile, saw benefits in the concentration of research that uses Big Data, large sets of research that are hard to compile and analyze. His work has examined, for example, whether the quality of a kindergarten teacher has long-lasting effects on a person’s life and earnings.
“Some of the attraction of the Bay Area is simply the fact that there are exciting opportunities with data and methods and machine learning,” he said. And that type of work requires lab space that more closely resembles that needed in the hard sciences — a fact Stanford has exploited.
Less clear is whether the agglomeration of economic stars at Stanford will ever amount to the kind of coherent school of thought that has been achieved at some other great universities.
The Chicago School, under the intellectual imprint of Milton Friedman, was a leader in neoclassical thought that emphasizes the efficiency of markets and the risks of government intervention. M.I.T.’s economics department has a long record of economic thought in the Keynesian tradition, and it produced several of the top policy makers who have guided the world economy through the tumultuous last several years.
“There isn’t a Stanford school of thought,” said B. Douglas Bernheim, chairman of the university’s economics department. “This isn’t a doctrinaire place. Generally doctrine involves simplification, and increasingly we recognize that these social issues we’re trying to figure out are phenomenally complicated. The consensus at Stanford has focused around the idea that you have to be open to a lot of approaches and ways of thinking about things, and to be rigorous, thorough and careful in bringing the highest standard of craft to bear on your research.”
“不存在什么斯坦福学派，”斯坦福大学经济学教授B·道格拉斯·伯恩海姆(B. Douglas Bernheim)说。“这不是一个讲究学说的地方。学说往往会简化事物，而我们越来越意识到，我们所要努力解决的社会议题是极为错综复杂的。在斯坦福，我们的主要共识是，研究人员必须对各种研究方法和思维方式保持开放心态，但在自己的研究上则要严格、彻底和谨慎地采用最高标准。”
In other words, it is less about the specific conclusion a scholar reaches, and more about how they get there.
“My sense is this is a good development for economics,” Mr. Chetty said. “I think Stanford is going to be another great department at the level of Harvard and M.I.T. doing this type of work, which is an example of economics becoming a deeper field. It’s a great thing for all the universities — I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game.”
And in its recent recruiting, Stanford may have had a secret weapon, coming from the skies. “Even the weather cooperated with us this year,” Mr. Bernheim said. “Nine feet of snow in Boston this past winter couldn’t have hurt.”