• George S. Tolley, 1925-2021 - A Message from the Department Chair

    A Message from Department Chair, Robert Shimer

    I am writing with the sad news that George Tolley passed away early this morning at the age of 95.  George was a Chicago economist through-and-through.  After serving in the US Army during World War II and earning his BA in economics from American University, he came to the University of Chicago to work on his PhD, which he earned in 1955. After an eleven year stint at North Carolina State University, George returned to the University of Chicago in 1966 as a Professor of Economics and remained here until he became an emeritus professor in 2000. George was a familiar presence in the hallways until very recently, and he continued teaching here until 2018.

    George made important original academic contributions. From his graduate student days onward, he was an integral part of the highly regarded group of agricultural economists at the University of Chicago that included D. Gale Johnson and T.W. Schultz. He did early research measuring rural poverty. He was a pioneer in the areas of Environmental, Urban, and Energy Economics. His ability to move across fields was a hallmark, distinguishing his work by its interdisciplinary and policy relevance. Among his many accomplishments, George was an internationally recognized leader in the development and application of techniques for measuring costs and values that are determined outside of conventional markets.  He applied these techniques to the valuation of urban and environmental amenities and improvements in health and medical treatments, among others.  He used such estimates successfully in regulatory proceedings and court cases.

    George very much enjoyed working with students and colleagues, giving his time generously to exchanging ideas, providing advice or establishing joint or collaborative projects. He was known as a prolific mentor, ushering into the field a large number of economists, many of whom also rose to prominence in public service, financial institutions, and universities around the world.

    George was a former Director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Chicago, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He was a founding editor of the journal Resource and Energy Economics. He held visiting professorships at the University of California at Berkeley, Purdue University, Nankai University, and Guelph University.  In 2018, he was the recipient of the Honor A Colleague award by the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis. 

    In addition to his academic work, George was president of RCF Economic & Financial Consulting. He also held executive positions in the Federal government including Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, and Director of the Economic Development Division of the Economic Research Service at the US Department of Agriculture. He consulted widely for federal, state, and municipal agencies, as well as international organizations like the World Bank, on the problems of urban and environmental economics from the 1960s until only a few years ago, both as an academic and in his capacity as President of RCF.  His expertise was requested in numerous international studies taking him to Korea, China, Japan, Venezuela, Panama, Iran, Thailand, The Gambia, Israel and Egypt. 

    George is survived by his wife Alice, his daughter Catherine, son-in-law Bill, and two grandsons. My thoughts are with his family. The Tolley family requests that gifts in memory of Prof. Tolley be directed to the George S. Tolley Prize. The Prize was recently initiated by Vinod Thomas, AM 1974, PHD 1977, to recognize and reward a third-year student in the Department of Economics whose research paper demonstrates the potential for the impact of economic analysis on policy. A memorial gift may be made online.  

    Best wishes,

    Robert Shimer

  • Collaborating with Kenyan government on development innovations is key to fighting poverty, says Nobel laureate

    Five people around conference table

    Prof. Michael Kremer (second from right) meets with Kenyan officials, including Dr. Sara Ruto (right), Kenya's Chief Administrative Secretary of Education, during a recent visit to discuss shared priorities for research-informed education policy at Jogoo House in Nairobi. (photo credit: Becker Friedman Institute)

    Economist Michael Kremer emphasizes the power of partnerships to identify scalable solutions to development challenges

    For Prof. Michael Kremer, innovation goes hand-in-hand with in-country partnerships that can save lives and improve livelihoods.

    A Nobel-winning development economist who joined the University of Chicago in 2020, Kremer has already worked on interventions that have benefitted millions of people through better health, education and improved water quality.

    Recently, he traveled to Kenya—where he has worked for decades—to meet with government officials and build some of those partnerships as he works toward the launch of new initiatives through UChicago’s Development Innovation Lab.

    His current work in the country focuses on simple innovations that can yield significant benefits. One example is text messages offering advice for farmers: A recent study published in Science, which Kremer co-authored with Raissa Fabregas at UT Austin and Frank Schilbach at MIT, suggests that this increases the number of farmers adopting advice by a fifth, and increases agricultural yields by 4% at a very low cost.

    “Since I taught in Kenya before graduate school, the partnerships we’ve made here have led to so much rewarding work on a range of issues, including deworming and public health. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address new challenges, from vaccinations to education,” said Kremer, the University Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School of Public Policy.

    In 2019, Kremer won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo for work using field experiments to test interventions that reduce global poverty. He now serves as the faculty director for the Development Innovation Lab (DIL), which he started last fall to work with partners and use the tools of economics to identify, test, refine and scale development innovations.

    Arthur Baker, the DIL’s associate director for research and planning, said collaborating with governments and other practitioners is one of the keys to creating successful solutions.

    “Having close relationships with implementers and governments enables researchers to really understand the issues at hand, and how solutions might play out in practice” said Baker. “That partnership enables us to generate better solutions which can then be tested and refined.”

    During his most recent trip to Kenya in July, Kremer met with a number of senior public officials in the Kenyan government, including Dr. Rashid Aman, the Chief Administrative Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Health, and Dr. Sara Ruto, the Chief Administrative Secretary of the Ministry of Education.

    In both high-level meetings, Kremer shared research results and discussed future areas of partnership, noting that Kenya has been a torchbearer for evidence-based policy solutions. The government officials shared the policy and research priorities in the health and education sectors, and agreed to pursue opportunities of mutual interest that would build on identifying, testing, and scaling innovative solutions that would have a positive impact on the lives of Kenyans.

    The partnerships we’ve made here have led to so much rewarding work ... I look forward to working with my colleagues to address new challenges, from vaccinations to education. -Prof. Michael Kremer

    Kremer’s previous work in Kenya includes successful efforts to improve student health and educational outcomes by providing medicine that reduces infection by parasitic worms (“deworming”), and improving rural water quality through chlorination. Decades later, Kremer and his colleagues followed up with students who received deworming medicine and found positive impacts on their incomes as adults.

    Now, he is examining new interventions that also have the potential to transform livelihoods—work that, as in his previous studies, relies in large part on partnerships with those on the ground who have knowledge of local issues.

    In a recent episode of UChicago’s Big Brains podcast, Kremer said the prevalence of mobile phones in the developing world is creating new opportunities for innovative communication strategies.

    “It’s possible to deliver information to farmers that is based on their location; tied to a particular time in the agricultural season; or timed around outbreaks of new pests,” he said. “So we did some trials of the impact of providing information to farmers, and found that it really did affect farmers’ behavior.”

    Kremer notes that such solutions are not “magical” fixes to problems, but they can deliver real results: It’s cheap to send text messages, and if a few farmers use the information they contain to their advantage—for example, by applying lime to restore soil pH balance—the financial benefit can be ten times bigger than the cost of sending the texts in the first place.

    This work is just one example of Kremer’s unique approach to innovation, which encompasses any change that can improve a system—including policy adjustments, communication strategies and technological advances. With Kenyan partners, Kremer is looking forward to developing and testing new innovations in agriculture, health and education through DIL.

    “The combination of personal engagement on the ground with the intellectual rigor of research is producing very exciting work, both in terms of understanding the global landscape and in helping to provide practical solutions to problems facing people,” said Kremer.

    This story was originally published as a UChicago News article. The original article can be found at news.uchicago.edu


  • Max Solomon Lewis, rising third-year student in the College, 2001-2021


    University of Chicago community mourns loss of campus leader, selfless friend

    Max Solomon Lewis, a rising third-year student in the College, is remembered by members of the University of Chicago community for his constant enthusiasm and the care he extended to others. 

    A double major in economics and computer science from Denver, Lewis died on July 4, three days after being hit by a stray bullet while riding an off-campus Chicago Transit Authority train. He was 20 years old.


    Man in suit smiling“The University is devastated by Max’s loss. During this sorrowful time, our deepest sympathies are with Max’s family, friends and all who knew him,” wrote Provost Ka Yee C. Lee and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen in a message to the University community. “Max was a talented student and beloved campus leader and friend who will be greatly missed.”

    Lewis was president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and member of Promontory Investment Research (PIR), a student-run publication. Through his many UChicago activities, Lewis made a lasting impact on many of his classmates, who remembered him as unconditionally supportive. 

    Joyce Liu, a rising third-year student, recalled regular phone calls she had with Lewis, which she called “incredibly grounding,” especially in the midst of the pandemic. The last time they spoke, they began celebrating an offer Lewis had received for a summer 2022 internship—a topic he quickly interrupted to discuss new ideas as members of PIR.

    “He was always thinking about others, always thinking about ways to improve the communities and people that he cared deeply about,” Liu said. “That was something that was so incredibly special about Max.”

    Victoria Gin, a rising fourth-year student, met Lewis through their involvement in PIR. Now the president of the organization, she recalled Lewis’ warmth and “can-do” attitude. “Even in a virtual environment, Max would find a way to make everyone laugh,” she said. “It was incredible.”

    Gin once invited Lewis to a dinner with friends to celebrate the end of the quarter. Lewis said he already had both lunch and dinner plans—but he joined them for a second dinner regardless. “He found a way to make sure he could participate and be present at every single event possible,” Gin said. “I have no idea how he was able to do it all, but he made sure to show up.”

    “He was always thinking about others, always thinking about ways to improve the communities and people that he cared deeply about.”

    —Joyce Liu, rising third-year student

    Zach Cogan, who met Lewis on their first day as UChicago students in fall 2019, remembered Lewis for his kindness and selflessness. “He would do things for other people and never ask for credit,” said Cogan, a rising third-year student and fellow member of Alpha Epsilon Pi. “He just wanted to help as many people as he could and was the biggest team player.”

    Asst. Prof. Rad Niazadeh of the Booth School of Business described Lewis as “a hidden gem and a rising star.” He recalled how Lewis reached out to register for Niazadeh’s course on managerial decision modeling, which had reached enrollment capacity. To convince Niazadeh, Lewis explained that he wanted to train across different departments to solve problems at the intersection of economics, computer science and operations.

    “I indeed allowed him to take my course to follow this aspiration,” Niazadeh said. “He later returned this favor by his exemplary grit and passion during the course.”

    The University will provide information on plans to honor Max’s memory in the near future. 

    “Max’s passing brings profound grief to the College community,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “As a student scholar and friend, Max was admired by many for the character and ambition that exemplifies the extraordinary students of UChicago. We are deeply saddened to lose this appreciated member of our community.”

    Lewis is survived by his parents, Mark and Rebecca; and his younger brother, Eli.

    —This story was first published on the University of Chicago College website.


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