We joined Nobel laureates’ lectures at the biggest World Congress of Economists ever, the Econometric Society World Congress, held « virtually » at our university.
From 17 to 21 of August, 4500 people, mostly scholars from the top universities worldwide, joined the Econometric Society and Bocconi University World Congress, this year completely held online due to the current Covid-19 Emergency. We were given the immense privilege to join it: here you find a brief review.
An Olympics of Economics
This congress is hosted “less often than the Olympics”, as Massimiliano Marcellino pointed out. He is a Professor of Econometrics at Bocconi and Chair of the local organizing committee of the Econometric Society, one of the most important international associations of Economists.
The participants to ESWC had available 1300 presentations on key economic topics and could join 300 live sessions held by leading academics on contemporary challenges in the field, ranging from inequality to climate change to trade wars. Indeed, like the Olympics, the ESWC exhibited an arena of champions in the field of Economics, including three Nobel laureates in the field: Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, who received the recognition last year, and Jean Tirole, who received it six years ago. However, the latter did not hold a real session, but paid homage to Emmanuel Farhi, a French Economist who recently passed away at the age of 41 and who was scheduled as a speaker at the event. Farhi was an Harvard professor and was considered an outstanding economist of his generation: he was the former adviser to French prime minister and before his death he took part in a meeting of the French President’s commission of experts on the major economic challenges, which only Olivier Blanchard and, indeed, Jean Tirole, had the honor of. Other than his “extraordinary intelligence”, Tirole praised his kindness and humility.
Among the lectures, it is foregrounding the unannounced contribution of Mike Shwarz, Corporate Vice-President and Chief Economist at Microsoft, who came to talk about challenges raised by consumer data collection by tech companies.
A Snapshot of an Inner – but Broad – Circle
During this event, we had the great opportunity to learn what it is like to be part of a privileged circle, that of scholars based in the most renowned schools of economics in the world, from the likes of Harvard, Princeton and MIT.
The interactive nature of the ESWC presentations displays the enthusiastic spirit of economists. It may be easy to dismiss academics as brooding, lonesome people. However, reality could not be further from this misconception.
It is important to remember that researchers come from completely different backgrounds. During one of the sessions, one could hear people who were born anywhere, from Argentina to Turkey, from Russia to China etc. and who now work on the other side of the world. Indeed, the contribution of different cultures undeniably adds value to the work.
Also, researchers are inspired by personal experiences and they often include in their works some elements taken from other subjects or real life, rather than solely relying on compact theoretical models. This could be observed in the economic papers discussed at the ESWC, covering a wide range of topics: medicine, TV shows or even Facebook to people wanting to pursue a career in the field and, to do so, the speakers gave some insights from their private life, e.g. discussing how they manage their family and friendships.
From this point of view, the importance of networking was effectively pointed out throughout the congress. Firstly, many papers presented at the congress were more often the product of a team work rather than a solo. Then, the event included Q & A and live networking sessions, in which the participants could get to know each other and discuss some matters, while video-calling on Zoom. Joining some of these, we noticed the incredible variety of people interested in the field of Economics. We found PhD students and scholars from a wide range of ages and countries – surprisingly, there was also a high school student, keen to pursue his studies in the subject.
In short, ESWC taught us that Economics is not just about numbers or models; it is shaped by people with their emotions and their relationships. Doubtless, physical contact, which Covid-19 prevented, forcing the event to be rebuilt in an online mode, would have been a value added to the experience: hopefully, it will be allowed next time.