Taking Economics Beyond the Classroom

By James D. Hamilton, Ph.D.

For the last 20 years, the UC San Diego Economics Roundtable has brought together faculty, business and community leaders, and friends of the university. Our goal has been to bring economic theory out of the classroom and professional journals and into a forum where it is useful to the broader community, and at the same time help academics to understand better the practical challenges and issues facing those in business, government and the broader community.

From a modest beginning as a small group that could sit around a single table, the Roundtable has grown to a point where today more than 100 participants attend our quarterly breakfasts. Four times each year, we invite a prominent expert to speak on a wide range of economic and policy issues.

National Influence
Many of the key architects of U.S. economic policy have spoken to our group, including Laura Tyson, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Bill Clinton; Glenn Hubbard, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President George W. Bush; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser to Arizona Senator John McCain; and Larry Summers, perhaps the most influential economic adviser in the Obama White House. A number of members of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and presidents of individual Federal Reserve banks have made appearances at our Roundtable. In 2003, Ben Bernanke, then a governor of the Federal Reserve, used the UC San Diego Economics Roundtable as a forum to deliver a major announcement about monetary policy. I remember being impressed that by the time I was back to my office from the Faculty Club where he had spoken, an account of his San Diego speech was already the number one story listed on Google News. Janet Yellen, who is soon to step in as vice chair of the Federal Reserve, has spoken at the UC San Diego Economics Roundtable twice in the last 10 years, most recently sharing her insights about the state of California and the national economy in the fateful summer of 2008. Elisse Walter, commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave a very timely assessment of the changing regulatory environment at the height of public discussion about the role of the SEC last April.

Economics Roundtable

Local Impact
We’ve also invited a number of speakers to address issues of particular interest to San Diego, including Frank Wolak, Stanford University professor and key adviser on California electricity regulation, and Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. Both Christopher Thornberg (then of UCLA Economic Forecast) and Yale University professor Robert Shiller delivered prophetic warnings about the California housing bubble at Roundtable breakfasts.

Private-Sector Analysts
Many prominent private-sector analysts have also spoken at our Roundtable, delivering up-to-date assessments of economic conditions and their implications for business decisions. Recent speakers include Lynn Reaser (who at the time was chief economist for Bank of America), Peter Hooper (chief economist for Deutsche Bank) and well-known oil industry analyst Philip Verleger. This last February, Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, gave a fascinating presentation on how Google search trends can be used to recognize any number of critical business and economic developments before they show up in the official government- or trade-reported data.

Faculty Connections
Our Economics Roundtable also provides a forum for UC San Diego Department of Economics faculty to share policy insights and practical implications of their research. Recent breakfasts have addressed such topics as the economics of education, immigration and terrorist social networks. Nobel Laureate and retired UC San Diego professor Robert Engle spoke on financial market volatility. And this July, UC San Diego professor Takeo Hoshi discussed what he sees as the key lessons from the financial crisis.

Perhaps above all, the breakfast forum of the Roundtable encourages more casual conversation and information sharing between all the participants, helping local community leaders to connect with one other and the UC San Diego faculty.

Future Events
The next Roundtable is scheduled for February 17, 2011. Our speaker will be Victor Nichols, CEO, Experian North America. Victor became chief executive officer, North America, in January 2010. Prior to this appointment, he was chief executive officer, UK and EMEA, and leader of Experian’s Marketing Services practice globally. In his Roundtable address, Victor will share some insights into changing consumer finances during the Great Recession.

The Roundtable’s Web site is economics.ucsd.edu/roundtable. If you would like to receive an invitation to this or other forthcoming Roundtable events, please contact Edie Munk of UC San Diego Extended Studies at emunk@ucsd.edu or (858) 822-0510. The Roundtable is made possible in part through the generous corporate sponsorship from Wells Fargo Bank.

James Hamilton is a professor of economics at UC San Diego and chair of the Roundtable Steering Committee.