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Throwing a “Bresfest” to fete a friend and colleague

Apr 9 2018

As a scholar, mentor and public servant, Timothy Bresnahan has made a tremendous mark in the world of economics. And what better way to celebrate his achievements than with an event named after the man himself.

Organized by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and Stanford’s economics department, “Bresfest” drew 85 of Tim’s colleagues, former students and co-authors to honor the impact he’s had.

There was much to celebrate. Tim joined the Stanford economics department in the fall of 1979 after finishing his graduate training at Princeton. Today he is the Landau Professor in Technology and the Economy, a SIEPR senior fellow, and professor, by courtesy, of economics at the Graduate School of Business.  

Tim has taken leadership on many fronts. The author of more than 100 research articles influencing multiple streams of research in economics and other fields, Tim has been an influential mentor for multiple generations of scholars. He has served on dozens of dissertation reading committees, acting as principal advisor on 30 of them. 

His career has also included public service.  In Washington, D.C., he served from 1999 to 2000 as deputy assistant attorney general and chief economist of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department.  Closer to home, he served as chair of the economics department from 2004 to 2008, and previous to that as director of the Stanford Computer Industry Project.  He is currently director of the Center on Employment and Economic Growth at SIEPR.  

Along with multiple editorial and other leadership roles, Tim has been a long-time research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, where today he also serves as a member of the board.

He was a founding editor of, and currently coedits, the Annual Review of Economics. In addition to other honors, Tim is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Econometric Society.

Bresfest focused on Tim’s contributions across four main areas.  After an introduction from SIEPR Senior Fellow Liran Einav, the day commenced with a session focused on the New Empirical Industrial Organization, a field of which Tim was a co-founder. 

This session featured presentations by Peter Reiss, Rob Porter, Denny Yao, Tom Hubbard, Mike Mazzeo, and Pat Bayer.  The second half of the morning turned to work related to Tim’s contributions in the economics of innovation, with papers on General Purposes Technologies, including presentations by Scott Stern, Franco Malerba, Alfonso Gambardella, Rebecca Henderson, and Ashish Arora.

 Garth Saloner, a long-time collaborator, offered lunchtime remarks, including reflections about Tim’s influence on economic policy research at Stanford over nearly four decades.

The afternoon turned first to work related to Tim’s policy influence, notably antitrust.  Jon Baker, Scott Wallsten, Carl Shapiro, and Greg Rosston highlighted both reflection on policy debates, including the legacy of the Microsoft case, as well as forward-looking assessments, including the appropriate role for antitrust in an economy increasingly characterized by dominant players in information technology.  This discussion then segued into a final panel focusing on Innovation in Information Technology, including presentations by Shane Greenstein, Erik Brynjolfsson, Pai-Ling Yin, Jon Levin, and Bronwyn Hall.   

Manuel Trajtenberg delivered a witty and heartfelt set of remarks over dinner.  And, to close the evening, Tim was presented with a crowd-sourced personalized Monopoly set, “Timopoly,” with properties, cards and tokens reflecting significant portions of Tim’s impactful life and career.

December’s Bresfest is now several months behind us, but the celebration of Tim’s work continues. He was more recently honored to receive, along with Ariel Pakes and Rob Porter, the 2018 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for “founding and shaping the field of empirical industrial organisation.”  The award ceremony will take place this June in Barcelona.

Liran Einav is a SIEPR senior fellow and a professor of economics at Stanford.

Shane Greenstein is the Martin Marshall Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Scott Stern is the David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology and Professor of Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.