Economist Levitt wins the Clark

Steve Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, is this year’s recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal. Awarded annually to the best economist under age 40, it is the field’s most prestigious award, right up there with the Nobel.

Levitt won for his work bridging economics and sociology. For example, a well-known Levitt paper is An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances. Colleagues call Levitt provocative and thought-provoking, two descriptors that most economists wouldn’t know if either mugged them in broad daylight.

Prior winners of the Clark include NY Times columnist (and sometime Princeton economist) Paul Krugman, as well as trade theorists Joe Sitglitz and Larry Summers, not to mention Milton Friedman.

I like Levitt’s stuff, it’s a kind of guilty pleasure, but there is something a little just-add-econometrics to it. With papers like “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime,”  as well as the aforementioned “An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances”, it sometimes seems as if Levitt picks a controversial topic from Column A, and a unit of analysis from Column B, and marches on, hoping for a mention on certain conservative editorial pages. (“An Economic Impact Analysis of Suicide Bombers”, etc.)

Sigh … well, better that, I suppose, than disappearing into the ether, like most never-mentioned economic studies.