Saturday, March 12, 2005

Korea University: Nobel Laureate Lecture Series 1

Those of you living within the vicinity of Seoul might want to attend Daniel L. McFadden's lecture on Thursday, March 17 at 2:00 p.m. in Korea University's Inchon Memorial Hall. McFadden's lecture will be the first in the Hyundai-Kia Motors Nobel Laureate Lecture Series, established to commemorate Korea University’s Centennial (1905-2005).

McFadden is the E. Morris Cox Professor of Economics at U.C. Berkeley (my grad school alma mater), and he received a Nobel Prize in the year 2000 recognizing "his development of theory and methods for analyzing discrete choice." This is not to be conflated with "discreet choice," a mistake I used to make (and still sometimes do). I'm not actually sure what a "discrete choice" is, but all will be made clear next week in language that even undergraduates can understand, for the lecture series is intended "to reach out to young people telling them of the importance of scientific knowledge."

There's a nice irony here since McFadden's talk promises to be about "the limits of rational behavior" in the private market decisions that consumers make. I take it that McFadden departs from strict rational-actor theory, but I probably won't find out until next week.

I'm becoming increasingly interested in economic theory because in my lectures on Western Civilization at Korea University, I've begun to emphasize the role of economics in historical change. If I don't know enough economics, how can I expect to explain -- or begin to explain -- such historical phenomena as Europe's commercial revolution in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? If I can't do that, how can I attempt to explain the sudden renaissance of Europe so soon after the terrible Black Death of the thirteenth century? And if I can't do that, then how can I competently account for Europe's subsequent domination of the world?

Yes, I lie awake at night obsessing about such things . . .

Not that McFadden will be speaking about any of that. But given that his talk will present "an overview of research findings from consumer studies over the last 50 years," the historian in me is already interested anyway.


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