The Economics Society at Cornell Launches (Econ)versations

By: Allison Barrett, 
Thu, 11/18/2021

The Economics Society at Cornell (CES) has started a new initiative this semester called (econ)versations, a series of 60-minute conversations, each with 10 individuals (students and professors) on an economics topic the professor is enthusiastic about addressing.

A few weeks ago, the first (econ)versation, Bridging the Gap Between Economics and Real Life: Lessons from the 2021 Nobel Laureates, was held at Prof. Stephanie Thomas’s apartment at the Low Rises, where she is Faculty-in-Residence. Participants discussed natural experiments—situations that arise in real life that resemble randomized experiments-- and how the 2021 Nobel Laureates in Economic Sciences—Joshua Angrist, David Card, and Guido Imbens-- developed frameworks for using these natural experiments to test theories and inform policymaking. Prof. Thomas was pleased to see so many first-year students at the event, and thought it was great to see them getting involved with faculty and with the economics department so early in their academic careers. She said that all of the students who participated had clearly read the paper she distributed beforehand and were prepared to talk about how empirical research can inform policy making, which made for a lively discussion. Students enjoyed the subject matter and learned a lot, but they were most appreciative of the opportunity to talk to a professor about economics outside of the classroom in a relaxed setting. Students were able to ask Prof. Thomas about her background, and it was fun for her to be able to share the story of how she became interested in economics. One participant said that what struck him most is that professors can be “really cool people” and that the study of economics can be a force for positive change with a wide variety of applications beyond the worlds of finance and banking.

The most recent (econ)versation (pictured) was with Prof. Michael Lovenheim, the Donald C. Opatrny ’74 Chair in the Department of Economics, and focused on the economics of higher education policy. Specific topics included costs of attendance, student debt and default, the role of college quality, the returns to postsecondary education, and inequality in higher education.

There are more (econ)versations planned for spring. Invitations will be sent to CES members, so interested students should subscribe to the CES listserv by visiting the group's website and clicking "join."

Prof. Lovenheim speaking with Economics Society at Cornell members