Profile of Raj Chetty: Data evangelist

IMF’s F&D Sep-2018 issue profiles Raj Chetty.

In some cases, Chetty’s work strikes out in new and unexpected directions. In others, it confirms earlier studies by sociologists or specialists in early-childhood education. Either way, what gives it such impact is his innovative use of massive data sets, which has put him on the cutting edge of a trend that’s transforming the field.

“Big data has been revolutionary in applied microeconomics,” says Emmanuel Saez, a frequent collaborator who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley. “Raj has been in the vanguard of this movement.”

For Chetty, big data promises to bring economics closer to the certainties of the natural sciences. The hope is that economists will have a greater impact on public policy by presenting evidence that’s convincing enough to bridge the ideological divide, especially at the local government level, where partisan rancor is less intense.

“He zealously preserves his ideologically neutral stand,” says David Grusky, a Stanford sociology professor who has worked with Chetty. “He wants the data to speak, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Grusky describes Chetty as a relentless investigator who roams widely through relevant literature, regardless of the discipline, and tests every conceivable hypothesis as he works toward a conclusion. “He considers it an abject failure if there’s ever a question coming from an audience that entails an analysis he hasn’t already undertaken.”

Speaking to audiences, on campus and off, is something Chetty does frequently in his role as evangelist for big data. He cultivates contacts with journalists and makes his articles available online, along with easy-to-understand summaries, which has helped attract widespread coverage of his work in publications including the Atlantic, the Economist, and the New York Times.

“If what we’re doing is important for the world, we should make it accessible to the world,” Chetty explains.

Hmm..

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