‘Put us on the map’
Thakral, an assistant professor of economics with a joint appointment at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, said, like Friedman and others, that what made him want to teach and do research at Brown is the quality of the faculty, including those hired in recent years. “This group has propelled the Brown economics department to the forefront,” he said, “It put us on the map.”
Gauti Eggertsson came to Brown in 2013 after eight years of conducting research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. At the Federal Reserve, Eggertsson gave advice to the bank’s president on setting interest rates and other policies. His research at Brown has centered on monetary policy, including analysis of the 2008 financial crisis.
A willingness to embrace nontraditional areas of economic research sets Brown's economics department apart from others.
When she came to Brown in 2003, Aizer knew the choice of her first research area would be crucial. She wanted to explore domestic violence as a subject, but wondered what her colleagues’ reaction would be. She was relieved when a senior colleague was extremely supportive, and she has continued to do work in this area for many years. More recently she has been studying the intergenerational transmission of poverty, including the impact of welfare on children’s outcomes using a data set she built of 80,000 children whose mothers had applied for welfare.
The department’s high level of collaboration, both within and outside of Brown, has shaped its success by bringing different dimensions to projects. The faculty have been active in many partnerships within Brown, including the Warren Alpert Medical School and School of Public Health, and at many Brown centers and institutes, such as the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. “Economics is a very collaborative discipline,” Aizer said.
Brown’s economics department dates back to 1828 and is one of the University’s oldest academic units, housed for more than a century now in the distinctive Venetian Gothic-style Robinson Hall.
While the cluster of hires in recent years in the data-mining areas of applied microeconomics have offered a significant boost, Aizer said the department has also increased its strength in areas such as game theory and long-run growth. Glenn Loury, for instance, is a prominent public intellectual and applied theorist who has published research on a number of subjects, including the importance of social capital.
Economic theorist Teddy Mekonnen, whose research focuses on information economics and mechanism design, joined the department in 2019. An assistant professor of economics, Mekonnen came to Brown after a postdoctoral fellowship at California Institute of Technology, where he worked on research showing that, against conventional wisdom, people newly enrolled in health insurance searching for primary care physicians achieved better outcomes if they randomly sampled the doctors available in their networks than if they screened doctors based on published rankings.
The success of the department’s graduates is another indicator of its larger impact through research. “Scholars who earned their doctorates in the Brown economics department are found throughout the top ranks of university economics departments in the United States and abroad, as well as in the Federal Reserve system, World Bank, IMF and the central banks of many foreign countries,” said Professor David Weil, a former department chair and Class of 1982 alumnus.