Hornbeck Faculty Dinner

Our first faculty dinner of the quarter was with Professor Hornbeck. Here are some of the topics he discussed that evening:

  • Undergraduate at UChicago
  • As an undergrad, decided that economics sequence was nicer than pub pol, didn’t initially know much about economics research
  • Liked a nice framework for the world and it was very predictive
  • RA work for professors second year, got to know more about it
  • Studied abroad at LSE 3rd year → took lots of math and statistics
  • Took graduate Price Theory fourth year
  • Wrote undergraduate thesis and naively tried to get published by major journals…actually did get published by Berkley’s new economic journal!
  • Went to graduate school straight after undergrad…harder to do now than then. Most now do RA work, the fed, quantitative economic consulting
  • Fall of graduate school, wrote an economic history paper for required course. Started browing through historical data for US census
  • Census had some interesting questions, adding more and more questions
  • Most capital in fences in the late 19th century than railroads → needed to claim land
  • Then barbed wire fences made fencing cheap → looking then how development property rights important for american fronteir
  • Research paper formed around the idea that places with lots of woodland would be less effected by introduction of barbed wire than those without
  • A lot point to crucual role of barbed wire fences in the american frontier
  • Nothing in it that couldn’t do as an undergrad
  • Be prepared and be ambitious about how to be doing research as an undergrad
  • Learn and try and fail
  • Thinking about ideas and interacting with professors and people
  • Reading coase and broadly reading very great books→ broad exposure for career
  • Quantitative background important, but also reading the greats will flow through a lot of the big research questions
  • Interested in papers with a historical papers → answering why places rich and poor is fundamentally historical question. Economics want to look at how economic agents adapt to changes overtime
  • American dustbowl in 1930s looking at the impact of climate change on agriculture
  • Look at same place and observe both the short run and long run costs. Phenomenal erosion then how much the country adapted overtime → within the agricultural sector, little adaptation
  • Then the mississippi flood→ importance of agriculture labor abundance or scarcity
  • Persistence of urban outcomes→ looking at ways in which after the boston fire of 1872 → increase in urban land values (opportunity to redevelop urban region) → urban spillovers
  • Confidential plant-level data
  • Using history to push the frontier of economics
  • Applied labor, development, econometric type papers
  • Pot of research question, data, empirical methodologies → find a loose connection between all three→ become more connected as you go
  • Have a rough sense of what question you broadly want to ask, then what data you want, and what the ideal experiment would look like, then what’s the closest way you can find this idea experiment
  • ISPCR has good data
  • Agglomoration spillover question→ first and maybe only clear identification strategy that these spillover exists → some other papers have better mechanism
  • We found when one plant went into the area, which ones seemed to experience more of an increase in productivity versus others
  • Less about direct input output relationships, but more about the technological spillover knowledge sharing
  • Reserach tends to be less directly related to policy, but more “how persistant are costs of agricultural change” or “are there big externalities to urban renewal” → more just statements than actual policy change
  • Behind coming up with exogenous shocks → how to develop a research paper that’ll be interesting no matter what is found
  • Goal to compare flooded counties (or other natural disaster) to nearby non-flooded counties.
  • From beginning have some sense with the identification assumption is going to be and will you always be comfortable with the identification assumptions
  • Not perfect identification assumptions, but still workable. Were they changing similarly beforehand? Can you control for a variety of these differences initially interacted with time?
  • Approach econometrics as there’s an ideal experiment that may or may not happen, then draw out what you’re hoping is there
  • Not leading with econometric tool, but lead with a problem and allow econometric tools to follow
  • By the end of graduate school, you know what academia is like (at least the research aspect)
  • Learn why you can’t do certain things, then why you can do some things
  • Life as a professor is more secluded than as a graduate student
  • From undergrad to grad school, thought had actual ideas of what to do research on, how fields and methodology would interact, etc. Didn’t actually know that much about what the field actually was. Stay open, and don’t close yourself off. Whatever you end up writing papers on ends up being what you go into. Stay open to ideas, because it can change a lot.
  • Model not context-specific, just a model about how capital replaced and externalities involved in that.
  • How to extract from history to lessons? Whenever analyzing particular context of particular data or setting, think about it as understanding economics generally. This will be broadly informative about how the world works. Learning generally about urban growth.
  • Difference between historian of economics versus economic historian (Hornbeck is an econom historian). Natural type economics methods, or structural methods.
  • BA on price discrimination of AIDS drugs. Explore if prices being kept artificially high in other countries by fearing drugs would be smuggled back to US. Gary Becker advisor on paper.
  • Idea very iterative. Have as strong of a sense as possible before starting a paper of what want to do, and either do it or not
  • Don’t need that many ideas, just need good ideas
  • plan to go to graduate school second year
  • Think about puzzles/economic questions
  • More people doing empirical economic historian work
  • Thinking about how the world works and coming up with ideas from there
  • Math changes a lot after calculus → much more intution based
  • PhD in economics better than other PhDs (other social sciences or humanities)

It was a great night! We hope to see you at dinners and events in the future


Hornbeck Faculty Dinner

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