Berkeley economist wins John Bates Clark Medal
Matthew Rabin, a recent MacArthur ‘genius,’ is latest campus recipient of award

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs


Matthew Rabin

Matthew Rabin, latest recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal.
Peg Skorpinski photo

02 May 2001 | Professor Matthew Rabin, one of last year’s winners of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship, is the latest Berkeley economist to receive the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economics Association.

The John Bates Clark bronze medal is awarded biennially to the American economist under the age of 40 credited with making a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.

Another economics professor in the College of Letters & Science who won the Clark Medal is Daniel McFadden, who received the medal in 1975 and shares the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics with James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Heckman won the Clark Medal in 1983.

David Card, an empirical labor economist, won the Clark Medal in 1995 and joined the Berkeley faculty in 1997-98. Economist Dale Jorgenson of Harvard taught at Berkeley in the 1960s and won the Clark Medal in 1971.

Maurice Obstfeld, chair of Berkeley’s economics department, said it is “very gratifying” to oversee a faculty that in the current school year has won a Nobel Prize and the Clark Medal.

Professor Avinash Dixit of Princeton, chair of the seven-member American Economics Association committee that recommended this year’s Clark winner said Rabin will formally receive his award in January. A committee statement called Rabin “an outstanding and strikingly original theorist” who has gone further than anyone in demonstrating the explanatory
power of a new genre of rigorous economic analysis based on psychological evidence.

“For the past decade, Matthew Rabin has been at the forefront of research that has advanced economic theory by incorporating the findings of psychologists and other social scientists,” Dixit said. “Rabin’s theoretical modeling, grounded in deep study of the psychology literature, has enabled him to build many bridges between the disciplines, and his work has inspired others.”

Contacted in London, where he is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, the soft-spoken Rabin called the award “a very pleasant surprise. It’s clichéd to say, but actually true that it’s sort of humbling, given the company (of other Clark Medal winners) I’m in.”

Rabin, 37, is a pioneer in psychology and economics, and the search for what’s wrong or missing in existing economic models. He explores such territory as how to explain risky behavior, how people trade off well-being from one day to the next, and the different ways people evaluate their gains and losses. His research has applications to credit card debt and stock market behavior, savings, asset prices, employee/employer relations, addiction and dieting, impulse shopping and choices in health care coverage.

“Rabin’s papers on the implications of people’s concern for fairness, on procrastination and immediate gratification, and on drawing inferences from a small number of observations, are likely to prove important milestones on the way to a richer and more useful economic theory,” Dixit said.

Rabin currently is working on a book to serve as an economist’s guide to psychology and “plugging away” on his research.

Rabin earned his B.A. in economics and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin in 1984, and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989.

In addition to the MacArthur award, Rabin won a National Science Foundation research grant in 1997 and was a 1997-98 fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto. He also was an Alfred P. Sloan research fellow from 1995 to 1997 and earned the outstanding teaching award from the Graduate Economics Association for 1999-2000. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

At Berkeley, Rabin has taught intermediate and advanced microeconomic theory to undergraduate students and game theory and core microeconomics to graduate students. He said he will resume teaching at Berkeley after he returns later this year.

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