Intro to the “Berkeley’s Nobel Prize-Winning Economists” Series

We often see people considering Haas as a professionally oriented school. More often than not, most undergraduate students at Haas, who are usually recruited prior to their graduation, also think Haas as a stepping stone to their future professional career. However, interestingly, Haas School of Business has always been an odd combination of both professional and academic.

In the midst of numerous coffee chats and professional networking events, there are huge portraits of five of the greatest scholars of Berkeley hanging on the Bank of America Forum (B of A). These scholars are, Gerard Debreu, Daniel L. McFadden, John C. Harsanyi, George A. Akerlof, and Oliver E. Williamson. As being a Haas undergraduate student myself, I have spent hours at B of A meeting numerous recruiters and preparing for various interviews. However, when my roommate (a wonderful chemical engineering student at Berkeley), during his first visit to Haas, asked me, “What have they done to earn a Nobel Prize?” I had nothing to say. I knew nothing about them. I had to tell him, “I don’t know.”

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The Portraits of the Five Nobel Laureates at the Bank of America Forum

Many Haas undergraduates, including myself, are professionally oriented often forgetting about the great academic values and accomplishments of Haas. Even though we see the portraits of five of the greatest scholars every day, we rarely question who they are and how their academic works have impacted the world. My series, “Berkeley’s Nobel Prize-Winning Economists” will focus on getting to know these scholars and investigate on how their academic works have impacted the world of business.

Today’s post will be a short introduction to the series. The goal of today’s post is to let Haas students become a bit more familiar with the five portraits hanging on the B of A Forum that we can answer at least some of the questions that our friends or families might ask during their tour at Haas. In order to efficiently deliver the information about the five scholars, I have organized a short Q&A session. Here we go.

Q: Is there a Nobel Prize for Business?

A: No, all five Berkeley’s Nobel Laureates on the portraits have received Nobel Prize in Economic Science. However, their studies have all brought significant impacts to business decisions and strategies. For instance, Oliver Williamson’s research let businesses effectively evaluate the cost and benefits of outsourcing, significantly impacting business decisions of numerous firms around the world.

Q: When did the five scholars all join Berkeley/Haas?

A: Gerard Debreu joined UC Berkeley Faculty in 1962 when the Berkeley Economics Department was building up its staff. He also later received a joint appointment as a Mathematics professor. The following year, in 1963, Daniel L. Mcfadden joined UC Berkeley’s economic department. From 1979 to 1991, he moved to the economics department at MIT, but returned to UC Berkeley in 1991. John C. Harsanyi first became a visiting professor and then a professor at the Business School of UC Berkeley in 1964, which now has become the Haas School of Business. His appointment later extended also to the Department of Economics.

After receiving his PhD at MIT, George A. Akerlof became an assistant professor at Berkeley Economics Department and became a full professor in 1978. Oliver E. Williamson joined Economics Department at the University of California, Berkeley as an assistant professor in the fall of 1963. He left Berkeley in 1968 and taught at University of Pennsylvania and Yale, but came back to Berkeley in 1988. Since then, he stayed in Berkeley as an economics, law, and business professor.

 Q: So not everyone is a faculty member at Haas?

A: No, while all five scholars are Professor Emeritus, only John C. Harsanyi and Oliver E. Williamson are Professor Emeritus at the Haas School of Business. You can tell this by looking at the very bottom of each portrait where it indicates which department each scholar belongs to.

Q: Then why are we, the Haas School of Business, receiving the credit?

A: It is because their works have significantly impacted the business world as well as the economy. For instance, McFadden’s econometric methods helped businesses to understand behavioral patterns in individual decision making while Akerlof’s economic theory illustrated how markets malfunction when sellers and buyers have access to different information. Because Haas well acknowledges the value and the contribution that their academic works have brought to the world, we are proud to hang  their five portraits up on B of A Forum, a place that has become central to the life of the school.

Q: Where are they all now?

A: Nobel Prize medalThe three living UC Berkeley professors are Oliver Williamson, George Akerlof, and Daniel Mcfadden. As a professor Emeritus, none of them are currently teaching a regular class in Economics or Business at Berkeley. However, they still hold their offices in Haas and Evans. (Fun Fact: their offices are F434 Haas, 549 Evans, and 508-1 Evans, respectively!)

I am aware that my post today may not sufficiently explain who the five Nobel Laureates are or what they have accomplished. In my future posts, therefore, I will investigate on each Nobel Laureate and his work with a greater detail. As many of their works are convoluted, containing a vast amount of details and data, I will try my best to deliver my future posts approachable, incorporating various metaphors and analogies. Schoolworks are hard enough. We don’t want another dry reading.

The five portraits of the Nobel Prize scholars are the potent symbols of the fact that we are an institution that seriously believe academic as our huge asset. That is, in the last analysis, what these portraits represent. Thanks for reading my first blog entry.


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