Akcigit Receives 2019 Max Planck-Humboldt Research Award

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UChicago economist’s innovative research honored with €1.5 million prize; Akcigit will study Germany’s east-west divide by turning a new lens on data

As a doctoral student in economics, Prof. Ufuk Akcigit found theoretical models to be too abstract, too untethered from hard, real-world data. So he decided to fill the gap, developing a way to ground theory on a deep statistical foundation. That pioneering approach led him a decade later to the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at University of Chicago—and now, has earned him a prestigious prize that can further the practical applications of his research.

It was a very exciting outcome for me...This is not about a particular paper. It was the appreciation of my entire research agenda.

On Sept. 19, Akcigit was named winner of the Max Planck-Humboldt Research Award, given annually to innovative researchers outside Germany to fund work within the country. Akcigit will receive 1.5 million euros to conduct five years of research on the economic gap between eastern and western Germany, as well as 80,000 euros in personal prize money. “It was a very exciting outcome for me,” said Akcigit, who has helped shape how scholars think about economic growth and innovation. “This is not about a particular paper. It was the appreciation of my entire research agenda.”

Akcigit plans to use the award to investigate how and why eastern Germany continues to lag behind its western counterpart, even three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He will collaborate with the Halle Institute for Economic Research, which holds some of the most extensive economic data available on the region’s firms and individuals. The partnership provides Akcigit a chance to tackle a question that has lingered on his mind for years. “I’ve always been curious, but I never had the occasion to study it in detail because it requires some rich microdata,” said Akcigit, a Turkish citizen who was born in Germany. “You need to have uniquely detailed information. Until now, I didn’t have this first piece.” By applying his research approach, Akcigit plans to interrogate even the basic assumptions undergirding economic policy, such as federal funding for research and development in Germany. Challenging such conventions, he said, will pave the way for stronger data-driven policy—even if some of that evidence confirms existing theories.

Akcigit joined the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at UChicago in 2015 for these opportunities to impact the world through economic analysis. By combining macroeconomic and microeconomic perspectives, he has produced research cited by numerous reports, including those issued by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the administration of President Barack Obama. Akcigit is currently consulting with the IMF, the Danish Ministry of Science and Education and the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey—analyzing for them the role and effectiveness of industrial policies.

Making his latest honor “extra special,” Akcigit said, is the fact that he is the first person to be recognized in the social sciences. The Max Planck-Humboldt Research Award was inaugurated last year with the selection of University of Edinburgh astrophysicist Catherine Heymans, and will continue to alternate each year between the natural and engineering sciences, the humanities and social sciences, and the life sciences. The award is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

The next five years will allow Akcigit to help train the next generation of economists. He plans to use his funding to build a team of scholars in Germany to work in conjunction with his existing team of UChicago students and postdocs. The new team, which will consist of about six members, will draw primarily from the Halle Institute. The two teams will meet once a week via teleconference, with Akcigit also traveling occasionally to Europe. That type of international collaboration could foster research breakthroughs in both countries.

“Bringing cutting-edge research to Germany—that is an important goal of the award,” said Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research. “We hope that Ufuk Akcigit’s empirically influenced research results will lead to a more precise understanding of the causes of the economic differences between East and West Germany.” Karliczek will present the award to Akcigit on Nov. 5 alongside Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society; and Hans-Christian Pape, president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In addition, they will honor University of Texas psychologist Elliot Tucker-Drob with the Max Planck-Humboldt Medal, which comes with a prize of 60,000 euros. - credit: Jack Wang/UChicago News (Photo credit: Victor Rubow, Max Planck Society/Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.)

Akcigit and Bonhomme Receive Named Professorships

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The Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics is pleased to announce two of our faculty have received named professorships.

Ufuk Akcigit has been named the inaugural Arnold C. Harberger Professor in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics and the College. A macroeconomist who examines economic growth, entrepreneurship, and the economics of innovation, productivity, and firm dynamics, Akcigit is a leader in the study of innovation and its role in economic growth. By recruiting microlevel data to inform macroeconomic models, his work unites traditionally separate approaches in the field. By compiling large-scale historical and international datasets, he brings empirical evidence to bear on questions of longstanding theoretical interest. Akcigit’s contributions to scholarship and policy have been recognized by a number of prestigious awards, including a National Science Foundation Career Award, the Asaf Savas Akat Economics Prize, and the Kiel Institute Excellence Award in Global Economic Affairs. Most recently, he was awarded the 2019 Max Planck-Humboldt Research Award. His research is widely cited in policy reports, including those issued by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Stéphane Bonhomme has been named the Ann L. and Lawrence B. Buttenwieser Professor in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics and the College. An econometrician with methodological focus on latent variable modeling and panel data, Bonhomme forges connections between econometric theory and econometric practice—an important tradition for UChicago economics. He has contributed to several important lines of research, including how to accommodate heterogeneity—a long-standing problem in the social sciences—in a flexible but feasible way. Some of the questions he addresses in his empirical work include the study of income inequality and mobility, the role of firms and workers in wage determination, and the joint dynamics of income and consumption. His research has been internationally recognized by a number of publications in top journals in economics. He is a fellow of the Econometric Society and of the International Association for Applied Econometrics, a co-editor of the Econometric Society Monograph Series, and an associate editor of the Journal of Econometrics, Quantitative Economics, and the Journal of Economic Methods. He previously served as a co-editor of the Review of Economic Studies.

UChicago Fed Challenge Team Wins Regionals

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The Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics is pleased to announce our UChicago Fed Challenge Team won the Regional Fed Challenge Competition on October 30th. They will advance to the National Fed Competition in Washington, DC on November 22nd. (Top photo: Front row: Ruilin Yang, Alena Kang-Landsberg, Christopher Zhao, Xiaoyuan Ma, Kanit Kuevibulvanich (Assistant Team Faculty Adviser). Second row: Kotaro Yoshida (Team Faculty Adviser), Andrew Pyper, Esteban Mendoza, Benjamin Weinberg, Zhi Zhang, Rachit Surana.) (Bottom photo: Fed Challenge Team presenters Christopher Zhao, Esteban Mendoza, Andrew Pyper, Ruilin Yang, Alena Kang-Landsberg.) Photo credit: the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

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