A+L Innovation Central: Susan Athey and the Intellectual Economy
Andrew Keen discusses the intellectual economy with Harvard economics professor and Microsoft chief economist Susan Athey.
Susan Athey is Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Born in 1970, she received her bachelor’s degree at 20 from Duke University, her Ph.D. from Stanford at 24, and was voted tenure at M.I.T. and Stanford before her 30th birthday. After teaching at MIT for six years and Stanford for five years, she moved to Harvard in 2006.
Her current research focuses on the economics of the internet, marketplace design, auction theory, and the statistical analysis of auction data. Recently she has been working on theoretical and empirical studies of internet search, online advertising and the news media. She advises governments and businesses on the design of auction-based marketplaces, consulting for Microsoft Corporation in the role of chief economist since 2007, focusing on online services.
Professor Athey is an expert in a broad range of economic fields including industrial organization, econometrics, and microeconomic theory and has used game theory to examine firm strategy when firms have private information. Previous research include mathematical methods and tools for theoretical modeling, auctions, industrial organization, econometric identification, and organizational design. She has analyzed dynamic games and contracts with hidden information; applications include collusion and competition among bidders at auctions, ongoing trading relationships among privately informed traders, and the question of how much discretion to give a privately informed central banker in setting monetary policy. Empirical work has analyzed the effects of the design of timber auctions on the types of bidders who participate, revenue, and the prevalence of collusion. She has also been studying econometric identification, asking in a number of different contexts whether it is possible to learn about economic primitives using a combination of data and theoretical models, when datasets are large. Applications include auctions, difference-in-difference models, and models of consumer choice. She has published numerous articles in the top economics journals.
At the age of 36, Professor Athey received the John Bates Clark Medal. The Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association every other year to “that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge.” She was inducted as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008. In 2000, she received the Elaine Bennett research award, given every other year to an outstanding young woman in any field of economics. She received continuous funding from the National Science Foundation from 1995 to 2008, including a prestigious Career Development award. In addition, she received the Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship for 2000-2002. She was elected as a fellow of the Econometric Society in 2004, and she is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution in 2000-2001, and in 2004-2005 was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science at Stanford.
She served as an elected member of the executive committee of the American Economic Association; as an elected member of the Council of the Econometric Society, and an elected member of the Council of the Game Theory Society.
She has served as co-editor of American Economic Journals: Microeconomics and Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, and as an associate editor of several leading journals, including the American Economic Review, Review of Economic Studies, and the RAND Journal of Economics, as well as the National Science Foundation economics panel, and she currently serves as an associate editor for Econometrica, Theoretical Economics, and Quarterly Journal of Economics. She was the chair of the program committee for the 2006 North American Winter Meetings, and she has served on numerous committees for the Econometric Society, the American Economic Association, and the Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession.
She is also an academic affiliate of Keystone Strategy, a firm thats support her business and policy work on market design. She worked as a consultant to the government of British Columbia in designing a market-based pricing system for government-owned timber, and she has consulted on the design of timber markets for several other foreign governments.
Non-academic honors include being named as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, Diversity MBA’s Top 100 under 50 Diverse Executives, and Kilby Award Foundation’s Young Innovator Award.
She was born in Boston and grew up in Rockville, Maryland. As an undergraduate at Duke University, she completed three majors, in Economics, Mathematics, and Computer Science. She got her start in economics research as a sophomore, working on problems related to auctions with Professor Robert Marshall. She was involved in a number of activities as well: she served as treasurer of Chi Omega sorority and as president of the field hockey club.
At Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, she received State Farm Dissertation Award and Stanford University Leiberman Fellowship, a university-wide dissertation fellowship. Upon graduation, her success on the academic job market was the subject of feature articles in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and the Boston Globe. At MIT, she held the Castle Krob Career Development Chair. She received the undergraduate economics association teaching award. She spent 1997-1998 as a visiting assistant professor at Yale University. At Stanford, she held the Holbrook Working Chair.
She is married to Guido Imbens, who is also Professor of Economics at Harvard, and they have three children, Carleton (born in 2004), Annalise (2006), and Sylvia (2010). Her main interest outside of work is spending time with her family.