laureate in Rio: Heckman scores #72 for Chicago
Heckman was in the shower, listening for the score of the Yankees/Mariners
game on CNN when he heard the phone ring. "A guy with a Swedish
accent called," he said. "That sounded good."
was good news indeed, as Heckman had just become the University
of Chicago's 72nd Nobel laureate and the sixth Chicago economics
faculty member to win in the last decade. Although Heckman knew
he had been on the short list, it took two more congratulatory
calls from Nobel committee members before he believed it.
had been joking during the week, calling each other pretending
we were the Academy," Heckman explains, referring to his Chicago
colleagues. "That's why I didn't believe it at first."
the Henry Schultz distinguished service professor in economics
and the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy, has
made a name for himself applying economic theory to real-world
social issues including affirmative action, Graduate Equivalency
Degrees (GED), and adult education, and challenging assumptions
about the efficiency and necessity of such programs.
is a field where you're solving real problems," he said in a telephone
press conference from Rio de Janeiro the morning of the announcement.
"Being able to tackle real problems has always been an attraction
for me." Heckman's trip to Brazil underscores this attitude-he
was in Rio de Janeiro for an economics conference, presenting
a paper that draws a causal relationship between government regulation
and Brazil's high unemployment rate.
Chicago native, Heckman received his B.A. from Colorado College
in 1965, and after a year of master's work at Chicago, transferred
to Princeton University where he completed his M.A. and Ph.D.
After a brief stint at Columbia, he came back to the U of C in
1973 to teach, leaving in 1988 for a chair at Yale, only to return
to Hyde Park in 1990. "I actually tried another university, thinking
that what was here was so common you could get it anywhere," he
said at a departmental reception upon his return from Brazil.
At Yale, everyone was bright enough, he said, but somehow, "there
wasn't the fabric of this place...." Heckman thanked D. Gale Johnson,
the Eliakim Hastings Moore distinguished service professor, for
talking then-University president Hanna Holborn Gray into taking
him back: "He rescued me from a bad decision."
Chicago economics faculty has become synonymous with the Nobel
award. Heckman is the ninth active economics professor to receive
the prize, which is more than twice as many as Chicago's closest
rivals, Cambridge and Harvard.
Becker, AM'53, PhD'55, who won in 1992, attributes the reign to
the Chicago tradition of hiring promising faculty early in their
careers. "Almost everybody in our department who's won the Nobel
Prize-and others who will win the Nobel Prize-we attracted prior
to their major work," he says. "This takes some courage, putting
your chips in places where there is a deal of uncertainty."
will split the award-valued at $915,000-with fellow microeconomist
Daniel McFadden of the University of California at Berkeley. Once
a visiting professor at Chicago, McFadden was awarded an honorary
Ph.D. in 1992. "I feel relieved to get a Nobel Prize. This tradition
can be quite oppressive," says Heckman of the Chicago legacy.
"If you don't have one, you start to feel outside of it."