Dear Members of the Harvard Economics Community:
It is a great honor for me to serve as the chair of this superb department and to follow a string of outstanding chairs. This is my 30th year as a member of this community, and it has been a great joy to live my life in the company of such extraordinary people. Ideas have long sparkled along the hallways and in the seminar rooms of Littauer, and I am so happy that we will be returning physically to our building after August 2. Zoom, for all of its marvels, is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
I hope that Harvard undergraduates come to understand the power of economics to analyze and change our world. Economics has long been a concentration for students who are interested in finance or management consulting, and I am proud of that fact. But our faculty study a much wider range of topics from political engagement in East Asia to American racial disparities to gender in the 21st century workplace. Our undergraduates write theses on an incredibly broad set of topics ranging from America’s trillion-dollar Paycheck Protection Program to India’s rural roads to far-right politics in the U.K. to solar panels and climate change. I am myself a student of cities from Los Angeles to Lusaka, and I am constantly dazzled by their startling virtues and terrible flaws.
If you are interested in policies that impact the environment or global poverty, then economics is for you. If you are interested in finding the causes of American inequality or Chinese economic growth, then economics is for you. If you are interested in fathoming both the strengths and weaknesses of market economies, then economics is for you. Those market economies both enable technological marvels and perpetuate terrible forms of discrimination. Understanding the global economy is the first step towards improving it. I am particularly passionate about ensuring that every undergraduate has the opportunity to experience real economic research, working as a paid research assistant for a faculty member. I urge you to take advantage of our programs in this area.
I hope that our graduate students find the joy in economic research. There are few pleasures as great as grasping a new idea or uncovering a new fact. There are no limits to economics; let your imaginations soar. Also remember that we are a social species that gets smart by being around other smart people. Our department is quite fortunate to have graduate students from an astounding number of countries and cultures. Our department is even more fortunate that its graduate students have long treated that diversity as an asset to be nurtured.
Littauer is your academic home. Come back to it as soon as possible. We want to see you walking down its corridors and hear you talking in its seminar rooms. Speak to us often about your research, especially early on, when you haven’t yet fixed on a question. Nurture your relationships with fellow students and take care of the students that you teach in your sections. Never forget that it is a great privilege to get to teach Harvard undergraduates. My door is always open to you. If you have a problem, I hope you come to me sooner rather than later. As some of you already know, I love fighting on your behalf. Don’t be shy.
I am enormously grateful to our partners: the staff who enable Littauer to function. Their good humor and quiet competence play a crucial role enabling our academic community to thrive. If there is some way that I can make your lives better, please let me know.
The Harvard Department of Economics is a place of great ideas and human kindness. It has given the world brilliant theorems, econometric methods, and policy prescriptions that have been followed by governments across the globe. Deep in its DNA, there is a belief that the study of economics can provide the answers for many of the most pressing problems facing humanity. I share that belief and I hope you do as well.
Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics