Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Interview with John List

From the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond comes an interview (pdf) with University of Chicago economist John List.
In the 1950s, Vernon Smith — then teaching at Purdue University and influenced by the work of Edward Chamberlin, one of his instructors at Harvard University — began conducting experiments to see how people responded to various market incentives and structures in a laboratory-type environment. At first, many economists questioned the importance of those experiments’ results. But by the 1970s, others, including Charles Plott of the California Institute of Technology, began using experiments to better understand decision making in various market settings, and in 2002 Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics along with the psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University.

In the mid-1990s, John List, who believed that experimental work had provided unique insights into human behavior, began conducting experiments of his own, but in the field rather than in the lab. By setting up carefully designed experiments with people performing tasks they are used to doing as part of their daily lives, List has been able to test how people behave in natural settings — and whether that behavior is consistent with economic theory. List’s field experiments, like Smith’s lab experiments, were initially greeted with skepticism by many economists, but that has changed over time. List has published more than 150 articles in refereed academic journals during the last 15 years, many on field experiments and related work.

List began his career at the University of Central Florida, with stops at the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland before arriving at the University of Chicago in 2005. While at Maryland, List served as a senior economist with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, working largely on environmental and natural resources issues. He is co-editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives and serves on the editorial boards of several other journals. Aaron Steelman interviewed List at his office in Chicago in May 2012.

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