• Nobel-winning economist Michael Kremer to join department faculty as University Professor

     

    Photo by Jon Chase/Harvard University

    Photo by Jon Chase/Harvard University

    Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Kremer has been appointed University Professor at the University of Chicago and will join our department faculty.

    A pioneer in development economics who has shaped the discipline through the use of field experiments to inform economic models, policy and program development, Kremer shared the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2019. He has been most recently at Harvard University, where he serves as the Gates Professor of Developing Societies in the Department of Economics.

    Kremer’s appointment at UChicago will be effective on Sept. 1. He also will hold a secondary appointment at the Harris School of Public Policy.

    “Michael is a scholar of extraordinary vision and accomplishment. His research has had an enormous influence on his field, and has been impactful in informing public policy in developing countries,” said Ka Yee C. Lee, provost and the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry. “We are delighted to welcome Michael to the University of Chicago. The range of his research will undoubtedly lead to collaborations across divisions and schools.”

    University Professors are among those recruited at a senior level from outside the University, and are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. Kremer will become the 23rd person to hold a University Professorship, and the 10th active faculty member holding that title.

    “The University of Chicago’s commitment to expanding research on development economics is an exceptional opportunity,” Kremer said. “The work ahead will develop new knowledge on ways to address global poverty and ultimately to do good for the world.

    Kremer was among the first economists to evaluate interventions in developing countries through randomized control trials. In 1998, he evaluated a project on deworming in Kenya. By comparing schools that had already been phased into treatment for intestinal worms with those that had not yet been phased into the program, he and his collaborators found that the program reduced student absenteeism by a quarter—and even reduced transmission of the disease to neighboring schools. Subsequent work also found that deworming had long-run impacts, leading to higher living standards 20 years later.

    “Michael’s research and its resulting policy impacts in economic development, health, education and technological innovation has been transformative at a global scale,” said Amanda Woodward, dean of the Division of the Social Sciences and the William S. Gray Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology. “We look forward to the next revolutionary phases of Michael’s work. He will be a foundational force for the future of Griffin Economics as well as for the broad community of economists at the University of Chicago.”

    Through the nonprofit organization Evidence Action and its private sector and government partners, Kremer’s work has now helped provide free deworming treatments to 280 million children. The World Health Organization recommends large-scale deworming as the most cost-effective way to improve children’s health and nutrition.

    “All of Michael’s work is grounded in theory and built around a coherent set of ideas interrogating what we can learn from economics,” said Rob Shimer, chair of the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics and the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics. “His extraordinary contributions to the field of economics and to improving human welfare are testament to the power of his methodological innovations.”

    In addition to that research, Kremer helped develop the advance market commitment, proposing the idea of a contract that would guarantee that if firms developed vaccines for diseases affecting the developing world meeting certain technological specifications, donors would help cover the cost of purchasing the product. Such commitments have stimulated private investment in vaccine research and the distribution of vaccines for diseases in the developing world. A $1.5 billion commitment by a consortium of donors led to the development and distribution of vaccines covering the strains of pneumococcal diseases common in the developing world, saving an estimated 700,000 lives.

    “Michael’s landmark work has not only advanced the field but has had enormous real-world impact,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and the Emmett Dedmon Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. “His work has resulted in billions of dollars being devoted towards malaria and pneumococcal vaccines focused on the strains prevalent in developing countries. Few economists have saved so many lives around the world.”

    While changes in broad-scale government programs have long provided economists with natural experiments to inform their models, Kremer and his colleagues developed an iterative strategy that engages—and in some instances, founds—NGOs to deliver social programs that implement and test economic ideas. This approach can reveal the causal forces at play in economic systems, shedding light where observational data cannot. It also offers a proving ground for developing and perfecting effective policies and programs.

    At UChicago, Kremer will lead a new Development Innovation Lab, an initiative that will sit within the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics.

    “I am excited to join the University of Chicago, with its storied tradition of pioneering economics research,” Kremer said. “The new lab will use the tools of economics to develop innovations of practical use for developing countries. By bringing together experts in different fields and working closely with nonprofit organizations, firms and governments in the developing world, we can simultaneously advance knowledge and generate solutions to development challenges which can reach hundreds of millions of people.”

    “Michael’s work simultaneously pushes out the frontier of understanding and has had enormous and lasting impacts on people’s well-being,” said Michael Greenstone, director of the Becker Friedman Institute and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics. “He is the perfect person to lead the Development Innovation Lab at BFI, and I know he will catalyze the terrific development economics here into even greater heights, with the ultimate beneficiaries being the field of economics and the world.”

    Kremer is the author of more than 120 academic articles and book chapters. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a 1997 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He has won awards for his work on health economics, agricultural economics and on Latin America.

    Kremer earned his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 1992. He was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago in Spring Quarter 1993. Prior to his appointment at Harvard, he was a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1993 to 1999.

    For more information, please see https://news.uchicago.edu/story/nobel-winning-economist-michael-kremer-join-uchicago-faculty-university-professor.

     

  • George S. Tolley, pioneer in environmental, urban, and energy economics, 1925-2021

    George S. Tolley, pioneer in environmental, urban, and energy economics, 1925-2021

    By Sarah Steimer

    George S. Tolley, the noted economist who led groundbreaking research on resource use, farm labor migration, urban economics, and environmental economics, died Aug. 31 at the age of 95.

      Man with glasses sitting at desk in front of photo of US Treasury

    The professor emeritus in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics was a pioneer in environmental, urban, and energy economics, working in higher education, civil service, and private consultancy. His research covered a broad range of topics, including migration and agricultural policy, water allocation, water investments in depressed areas, international trade in agriculture and economic development, social costs and rural-urban balance, resource allocation effects of environmental policies, fiscal externalities and suburbanization, road capacity and city size, tax rates and national incomes, and freeing up transit markets.

    “Tolley was part of a group of very distinguished economists at Chicago,” says James J. Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics. “They created an atmosphere that has been accurately described as really thinking the purpose of the economics department was a serious one and there to solve the problems of the world — and to do it in a way that was lasting and empirically grounded in understanding a wide range of public policy questions. George was in that group and was a very active player — a student of that environment who kept it alive and helped it flourish.”

    Born in Washington, D.C., Tolley’s early life — particularly living through the Great Depression — shaped his interest in economics. “I was going to devote my life to make sure it didn't happen again,” Tolley said in a 2018 interview. “If I want to do something useful, that's what I should do.”

    But he also had an inside look at the world of economics through his father, Howard R. Tolley, who served as chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics (subsequently consolidated with other USDA units) during the New Deal and World War II. The younger Tolley recalls summers spent at a desk in his father’s outer office.

    Tolley attended American University for undergraduate studies before heading to UChicago for graduate school, earning his PhD in economics in 1955. He said he rejected the idea of going to an Ivy League school, instead preferring the idea of “rough and tumble” Chicago where he found more intellectual freedom without the confines of being proper.

    It was here he encountered some of the best-known minds in economics and mathematics: Theodore Schultz, Milton Friedman, Frank Knight, Harry Markowitz, Jacob Marschak, Tjalling Koopmans, D. Gale Johnson, and Oskar Lange, to name a few. (He was also good friends with fellow student Mike Nichols, who went on to direct classic movies including The Graduate.) Tolley was part of Schultz’s agriculture group at UChicago, studying problems of agricultural modernization in the U.S. and worldwide. The primary paper from his dissertation was published in the Journal of Farm Economics and received the cash prize for excellence from the American Farm Economics Association.

    After receiving his PhD, Tolley spent 11 years as a faculty member at North Carolina State University as associate professor of agricultural economics before returning to UChicago as a professor in 1966. He shifted his focus from agriculture to urban economics, establishing urban economics as an area in the UChicago graduate program by the early 1970s — a rare offering in economics departments at the time. But his approach remained in the Chicago tradition in that it drew on price theory to analyze urban problems. Tolley served as director of the Center for Urban Studies at UChicago from 1978 to 1985. More recent work in the field of urban economics is often based on Tolley’s city bigness framework.

    Tolley was particularly compelling for his ability to move across economic fields and subjects, which also gave his work deep policy relevance. He 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 used such techniques to bring a modern lens to the field in addressing urban and environmental economics. For one example, Tolley developed a practical benefit-cost framework for dealing with pollution in the Chicago area with funding from the National Science Foundation.

    Man with glasses sitting at desk

    “George Tolley hired me as his research assistant when he was a young assistant professor in the economics department. He was a very patient teacher of his young helper,” says Lester G. Telser, professor emeritus in Economics. “At the end of the summer I had to decide whether I would return to Harvard. I made an appointment with Theodore W. Schultz, head of the economics department. Given my experience with George, T. W. did not have a hard sell. I switched to the University of Chicago.”

    Beginning in the 1960s, Tolley consulted for federal, state, and municipal agencies on urban and environmental problems. His research and expertise helped with the design of such policies as the Clean Air Act, and his techniques have helped determine the valuation of urban and environmental amenities and improvements in health and medical treatments. This included his seminal work on health economics, Valuing Health for Policy: An Economic Approach, which moved the field to a broader view of the economics of wellness.

    “His work on public policy questions was very influential when it was written and remains so now,” says Robert E. Lucas, the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics.

    Tolley’s work outside of academia included his time as director of the Economic Development Division of the Economic Research Service of the USDA from 1964 to 1965 — the direct descendant of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that his father once led. In 1974 and 1975, he served as deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Tax Analysis of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Tolley also served on the President's Task Force on Urban Renewal, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Automotive Pollution, and the Energy Engineering Board at the National Research Council.

    Tolley was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003 and founded the journal Resource and Energy Economics, which published a special issue in his honor in 2001. He held visiting professorships at the University of California at Berkeley, Purdue University, Nankai University, and Guelph University. He was the recipient of the Honor A Colleague award by the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis in 2018. His published works include 22 books and more than 50 articles. He also served as CEO of RCF Consulting — his own firm — where he directed mail volume forecasting work for the U.S. Postal Service and helped the USPS develop approaches to postal volume forecasts.

    Many in the UChicago community also recall Tolley as a mentor. He directed 69 PhD dissertations as committee chair, one each year in his 12 years at North Carolina State and 57 at UChicago. In the 2001 special issue of Resource and Energy Economics, University of Kentucky economist Glenn C. Blomquist made note of Tolley’s ability to educate students, colleagues, and policymakers:

    George S. Tolley’s gentle but probing questions have influenced his colleagues and generations of graduate students to think more clearly about how to use their economic tool kit to answer policy questions. He has been equally able to influence the broader group of social scientists and public administrators who develop and implement public policy. As a member of multidisciplinary academic committees and while working with and in government, he has been able to focus attention on basic economic questions. How will individuals react to this policy? How will achieving this policy goal affect the attainment of other policy goals? While many economists can tell noneconomists these things, George’s great talent is in getting them to believe that they had discovered these issues on their own.

    Tolley gave his time generously to others, whether exchanging ideas, offering advice, or establishing collaborations. Numerous economists received his guidance, many of whom also rose to prominence in public service, financial institutions, and universities across the globe.

    “His students were fiercely loyal to him,” Heckman says. “He was very active on PhD theses and working with students. He’s got a big legacy of producing people and producing ideas — and his students are continuing that.”

    Economist Vinod Thomas, AM’74, PhD’77 and currently a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore, studied under Tolley and eventually collaborated with him on research for the World Bank. He says Tolley had a highly respected global presence and was a “low-key but forceful leader in applying empirical economics to vexing country problems.” But locally on the UChicago campus, Thomas remembers Tolley giving liberally of his time, including his personal time.

    “I recall putting the finishing touches to my PhD thesis while going with him to pick up some items at the supermarket for a late meal that Alice Tolley — with their daughter Catherine in our midst — would graciously host at their home in Hyde Park.”

    George is survived by his wife Alice, his daughter Catherine, son-in-law Bill, and two grandsons.  The Tolley Family requests that gifts in memory of Prof. Tolley be directed to the George S. Tolley Prize. The prize was initiated by Thomas to recognize and reward a third-year doctoral 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. Please email Yasmin Omer for more information. Plans for a memorial service will be forthcoming.

    Pictured above:

    Photo 1: Prof. Tolley at his desk with a picture of the US Treasury, where he worked, behind him.

    Photo 2: Prof. Tolley early in his career at UChicago

    This story was originally published as a news article by the Division of the Social Sciences at UChicago. The original article can be found at socialsciences.uchicago.edu.

     

     

  • 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

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