Acemoglu wins Clark MedalIn golf, there is a tradition of the last winner of the Masters helping the latest victor slip into a green jacket. In economics, we don’t have the same tradition, but if we did, it would have been an honor for me to bestow a green pocket protector on Daron Acemoglu last week when he won the John Bates Clark medal.
I’ve known Daron since I was a first year graduate student. We both remember our first conversation, which happened to place in a mens room at MIT. I’ve long been a great admirer of Daron’s work, and honestly, felt he would have been a more deserving winner of the Clark medal two years ago than I was.
Acemoglu’s research even has a touch of Freakonomics to it. For instance, in a paper with Simon Johnson and James Robinson, they argue that the death rates of soldiers, bishops, and sailors in colonies hundreds of years ago had a big impact on whether settlers came to colonies, which in turn affected the types of institutions that were established, which in turn has an important impact on economic and social factors in these countries today. In a roundabout way, this has some parallels to the idea that legalized abortion in the 1970s helps explain why crime fell in the 1990s.
In another paper, Acemoglu and co-authors challenge the conventional wisdom that democracy causes strong economic performance. They argue that although democracy and income are positively correlated, it is actually that they are both caused by long ago implemented institutions that fostered both democracy and strong economies. If this result holds up, it is really a remarkable finding.
To honor Acemoglu’s great contributions to economics, we are thinking of sending him a Freakonomics t-shirt.