Profile of John List and his field experiments

Here is a superb profile of John List of Univ of Chicago (HT. Tyler Cowen who else??).

List is one of the leading economist in the area of field experiments. The profile mentions about his amazing career and rise as a top economist. There are basically three kinds of experiments econs use:

  • Natural experiments – these are experiments based on historical events and data. Say how two economies differed after getting independence at the same time? How did financial sector change after repeal of Glass Steagall act? This has been a popular are for economic historians
  • Laboratory experiments – pioneered by Vernon Smith in which economic settings created and understood in labs
  • Field experiments – done in real life setting like the numerous evaluation exercise.

The experimental approach has been both welcomed and criticised by economists.

List has recently won a USD 10 million grant to understand pre-school education. This is the largest grant in the area of field experiments:

John List, a University of Chicago economics professor, strides through the Griffin Early Childhood Center chatting with teachers, complimenting girls on their braids and hollering out the window.

He acts like it’s his school, and in many ways, it is. The preschool in the low-income suburb of Chicago Heights is the centerpiece of one of the largest field experiments ever conducted in economics, and it’s List’s brainchild.

With $10 million from hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin, List will track the results of more than 600 students– including 150 at this school. His goal is to find out whether investing in teachers or, alternatively, in parents, leads to more gains in kids’ educational performance, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its April issue.

Students selected to attend the Griffin school are enrolled in the free, all-day preschool. Children in another group aren’t enrolled in the school, while their guardians take courses at a “parenting academy” and receive cash or scholarships valued at up to $7,000 annually as a reward.

As he is not an expert in education, he has some experts in education area in his team.

How he became an economist? He  was influenced by the flashy lifestyle of golf playing economists!

List followed an unconventional path to economics. The son of a truck driver and a secretary from rural Wisconsin, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on a partial golf scholarship. (A scratch golfer in college, List says he now has a 4 handicap because he has time to play only twice a month.)

After initially aspiring to be a stockbroker or golf pro, List says he was drawn to a career in academia after noticing economics professors on the golf course almost daily and wondering how he could emulate their lifestyle.

He applied to graduate programs in environmental economics, which studies the costs and benefits of environmental policies, and ended up at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

He specialised in environmental economics but stumbled on field experiments by chance. He also ended up using experiments to raise more money for his department:

Hired at Central Florida, List began churning out papers about environmental economics. He also continued tinkering with field experiments. In what would become a pattern, List took a mundane task — raising money for his department — and turned it into a field experiment that asked if the presence of seed money in a fundraising campaign increased donors’ willingness to give. The more seed money, List found, the greater the contributions

He won the economics Grandslam in 2004:

In 2004, List published papers in four major journals: American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy and The Quarterly Journal of Economics. The feat was equivalent to winning the four Grand Slam tournaments in tennis, says Chad Syverson, a colleague at Chicago.

Job offers came pouring in from Cornell University; the University of California, Berkeley; and Princeton as well as from the University of Chicago’s Economics Department and Booth School of Business.

He finally moved to Chicago and has been doing great since then. His papers on field experiments have got great reviews as well.

This pre-school experiment could be pretty useful as well. Let’s wait for the results.

One Response to “Profile of John List and his field experiments”

  1. Pocket Money – a financial literacy programk for school students « Mostly Economics Says:

    […] Mostly Economics This blog covers research work in Economics with focus on India « Profile of John List and his field experiments […]

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