Professor Edward Lazear Honored with 2016 Davis Award

Lazear is the 15th recipient of the Robert T. Davis Faculty Award for a lifetime of achievement and service to Stanford GSB.

May 16, 2016



Professor Edward Lazear

One of the highest compliments the Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty can pay a young economist is to call the rising star “Lazearesque.”

Everyone knows exactly what to expect: intensity, intelligence, and determination. Or as Kathryn Shaw put it, “Brilliance coupled with energy tends to create stardom. We have a superstar in our presence — and it is Eddie Lazear. He is the ultimate academic entrepreneur.”

Edward Lazear, who has won practically every award labor economics has to offer, was honored in late April with the Robert T. Davis Award for a lifetime of achievement and service.

Recognized as the founder of personnel economics, Lazear wears many hats at Stanford. He is Jack Steele Parker Professor of Human Resources Management and Economics, Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Professor of Economics (by courtesy) of the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

The professor joined Stanford GSB in 1992 from the University of Chicago and just two years later received a Distinguished Teaching Award. Then in 2000 he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award, PhD Faculty. Lazear, who earned his BA and MA in economics from UCLA and his PhD from Harvard University, was applauded for loving research, enjoying teaching, and serving as both Stanford GSB’s spiritual leader and its cheerleader.

Shaw, Ernest C. Arbuckle Professor of Economics, noted that she has followed Lazear since she read his seminal work on wage differences written in 1979, now known as the Tournaments Paper. An award-winning teacher whose style is tough to mimic, Lazear does not subscribe to modern tools — no computer PowerPoint for him. Instead, Shaw said, he prefers a whiteboard, the Socratic method, and math to illustrate his concepts.

An avid traveler, Lazear has journeyed to Mongolia and Bhutan with students, viewing the trips as unique teaching opportunities, and earning praise from Stanford GSB Management Board just for being associated with the program. “If Lazear is on board, the trips are serious and worth supporting,” said one member, according to Shaw.

His service to the profession and the country is well documented. In the early 1980s, Lazear founded the Labor Journal of Economics and served as its editor for 20 years, and in 1996 he founded the Society of Labor Economics. In 2006, however, he left the Farm and headed to Washington, D.C., to join President George W. Bush’s administration. Lazear only planned to serve one year, but the Great Recession was brewing and he stayed to the end of Bush’s presidential term, becoming an architect of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and a chief negotiator of the bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler.

As chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Lazear was a member of Bush’s inner circle, even earning the nickname “Stork” from the former president for his appearance during their frequent bike rides at Camp David. The two have maintained their friendship during the past decade, and photos were shown of Lazear at Bush’s Texas ranch raising money for the Wounded Warriors.

Shaw was quick to note that just because Lazear received a lifetime achievement award does not mean that he is slowing down. Far from it, she said. Only recently, he could be seen running — actually sprinting — between classes at Knight Management Center.

Paul Oyer, Fred H. Merrill Professor of Economics and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, called Lazear a “born economist” who invariably asks the question that is the essence of his philosophy: “Look at the empty shelves. Wouldn’t prices fix this?”

Oyer concluded, “Eddie shaped my thinking. He has a knack of taking something that is really simple and making it seem profound.”

Lazear briefly addressed the crowd and said when told he received the Davis award, his first reaction was, “I’m not worthy. Surely there are better candidates.” According to Lazear, the bearer of the news “agreed,” but said the others had already received the award — or so he laughingly recalled.

Calling the award an honor that equals his service to the White House, Lazear said he still enjoys teaching, loves research, and “plans to hang around as long as I can to teach and write,” a declaration that received a long and sustained round of applause.

The award was created in 1996 to honor Robert Davis, a professor for 37 years at Stanford, who died in 1995. Given periodically by Stanford GSB deans, it recognizes colleagues for their academic careers and service to the school. Past recipients have included:

  • David Kreps, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, in 2010
  • Margaret Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, in 2011
  • Paul Pfleiderer, C.O.G. Miller Distinguished Professor of Finance, in 2012
  • Keith Krehbiel, Edward B. Rust Professor of Political Science, in 2014


By Katherine Conrad

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