Letter from the Chair

Department Chair William R. Johnson writes about “interesting times.”

By William R. Johnson

A perhaps apocryphal ancient Chinese proverb offers the wish, or curse, “May you live in interesting times.” For an economist, the last three months have surely been “interesting times.” Dramatic volatility in world financial markets, with accompanying impacts on the real economy, have plunged policy makers and those of us in the economics profession into intense discussions about the best course of action. The blogs of economists have been crackling with debate about what the policies of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and other policy actors should be. The wisdom of what is done and what is not done in the policy realm will be debated by scholars well into the future, but recent events have reminded us that the study of economics is not just an abstract intellectual exercise, but deals with questions of great importance to the livelihoods, and therefore the lives, of millions of people. Living through the Great Depression led a whole cohort of talented scholars—such as Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, James Buchanan, and Robert Solow—to study economics. Though I do not think we will relive the Great Depression, perhaps this episode will inspire some students to study economics for altruistic reasons—because economics attempts to find solutions to important problems that affect peoples’ lives. A surge of creative thinking about economic problems could well follow this financial turmoil.

As I reported to you before, the Economics Department is slated to move into Monroe Hall this coming summer. We have been planning the details of our new space to ensure that it serves the needs of faculty, staff, and students. We look forward to being back near the Lawn and much closer to our students.

In this edition of our e-newsletter, we focus on the research of two of our most distinguished faculty members, Simon Anderson and Charles Holt. We also profile two economics alumni from the class of 1983 who are active in the world of venture capital, as well as a third from the class of 2001 who engages in microfinance lending programs in the developing world. John Pappas, a fourth-year economics major, describes how his public service activity at U.Va. has profoundly affected his undergraduate experience.  And we finish with some photographs of our departmental diploma ceremony last May and our career fair in April.
 
For our graduate student alumni, the traditional holiday letter from the chair is posted on our departmental website--click here.
 
I enjoyed hearing from many of you after our April newsletter, and encourage you to contact me at .