Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Columbia University’s Rise: The Role of Urban Quality of Life and Power Couple Co-location

New York Magazine has a great article about the recent success of Columbia’s Economics Department

The article highlights the hard work of the Department Chair and the commitment of resources by the University to fund the Economics Department. The article stresses the co-ordination problem that great economists want to be in departments with other great economists so a school with lots of money but few great economists will have trouble initializing the process.

In exploring Columbia’s rebound: the article under-emphasized:

1. The co-location problem --- it looks to me that almost all of their hires had major co-location problems and big cities solve the co-location problem. Read my paper Power Couples, The Locational Choice of the College Educated 1940-1990 (joint with Dora Costa) , Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(4) November 2000, 1287-1315.

2. The role of quality of life --- unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, people now want to live in New York City. The issues were the public schools and crime. Crime is down and Columbia is trying to address the school issue by building its own kids schools.

3. Note that the article does not have a “control group”. NYU is such a control group and the place is booming. Based on this data sample of N=2, all rich schools in NYC are experiencing sharp improvements in their economics departments.

4. The article does not mention competition. When NYU got Tom Sargent and this initialized their process of recruitment and expansion, did this “scare” Columbia into investing more in economics?

The challenge such a department will face is that it is “not organic”. These folks have been brought in together at the same time and whether they have good chemistry across their research groups remains to be seen.