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September 26, 2019 to December 5, 2019

Econ 5: Frontiers in Economic Research and Policy — Autumn 2019

Econ 5: Frontiers in Economic Research and Policy — Autumn 2019

Thursdays 4:30-5:50pm, except as noted

About the Course

The classical models covered in the Econ "core" classes (at least the ones I teach!) help you learn to think like an economist, but they contain very little hint of the exciting work modern economists today spend their time on. In this class, we’ll hear from economists working in academia, industry, and government, and learn how they are working every day to study and solve the biggest problems facing the US and world economies.

This course is aimed at students of all years and interests, with a focus on incoming students considering Econ as a course of study. There are no pre-requisites; each lecture will assume no prior knowledge, and will be at about the level of a TED talk.

Course Policies

This is a one-unit, credit/no-credit course. There are no problem sets or tests. There are only two student requirements:

  • you must attend at least 7 of the 10 talks, as demonstrated by submitting a written question during the talk (we’ll pass out 3x5 cards for this purpose)

  • you must refrain from using electronics during the talks, out of respect for the speaker and for your fellow classmates, except as noted

Several of the talks will be followed by a meal with the speaker to allow informal follow-up conversations with these remarkable economists. Sign-ups for these discussions will be available through the course Canvas site.

Because speakers vary from year to year, this course may be repeated for credit.

Course Organizer

Christopher Makler

Stanford Economics Department

I usually teach Econ 50 and 51, and am delighted to complement those very theoretical courses with a course dedicated to the important applications of economics to the real world.

Schedule of Speakers

Note: dates and speakers are subject to change.



Christopher Makler

The Economic Impact of Social Networks

September 26

Social networks play a major role in how we make decisions - from where we live and work to what we buy to the information we receive and our beliefs. In this talk he will overview what we've learned about how networks impact our economic decision-making, specifically in the housing market and in the market for new products, through social interactions and belief formation. Bring your laptop, as we'll be going through a interactive simulation during the talk!

Designing a ‘Truthful’ $19 Billion Auction

October 3

Paul Milgrom worked with computer scientists to design an auction that allowed cell companies to buy wireless spectrum from local TV stations — an optimization problem with over 1 million constraints! The auction raised over $19 billion in revenue, reduced the U.S. debt by more than $7 billion, and improved cell service for millions of Americans.

Prof. Milgrom teaches Econ 136: Market Design.

Global Infrastructure: Potential, Perils, and a Framework for Distinction

Monday, October 7, SIEPR
(note different day and location)

A large economic literature claims poor countries have an infrastructure investment gap of roughly 1 trillion dollars per year and therefore possess widespread opportunities for productive spending on infrastructure. Together with Camille Gardner, Prof. Henry found this claim to be invalid — but also developed a framework for identifying true opportunities.

The Economics of Education

October 17

Prof. Hoxby teaches Econ 146: Economics of Education.

Navigating Financial Crises

October 24

The financial crisis of 2008 severely damaged the U.S. and world economy. What causes financial crises? What are the keys to anticipating, preventing, and managing disruptions in the global financial system?

Prof. Toloui teaches Econ 14: Navigating Financial Crises in the Modern Global Economy.

What Inventions Are We Missing?

Friday, November 1, 11:30 am (note different day and time; location TBA)

Medical researchers don’t operate in a vacuum: their decisions of which potential cures to pursue are determined, at least in part, by the economic incentives offered by the patent system. Prof. Williams uses new data and empirical methods to evaluate the effects of patents on research investments — and potentially uncover policy changes that could save lives.

The Economic Impact of Climate Change

November 7

Scientists have provided clear evidence that the climate is changing, but what to do about this changing climate is an economic question. Prof Burke uses data from around the world to understand how a changing climate affects our productivity, health, and happiness, and uses this knowledge to help inform our approach to dealing with climate change.

Prof. Burke teaches Earth 2: Climate and Society, CS325b: Data for Sustainable Development, and ESS 268: Empirical methods in sustainable development.

Giving Money to People in Extreme Poverty

November 14

The Economics of Technology

December 5