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Regents' Professor: Richard Rogerson

April 19, 2007

Richard Rogerson believes in mentorship. The Rondthaler Professor of Economics in the W. P. Carey School of Business and new Regents' Professor credits his mentors with instilling in him a passion for economics.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, Rogerson, a physics major, was drawn to his life's work by chance.

Seven outstanding ASU faculty members are being honored as President's and Regents' Professor. The awards are among the highest honors for faculty excellence.

Regents' Professors stand out for their accomplishments in many areas, including excellence in teaching, exceptional achievements in research or other creative activities, and national and international distinction in their fields. The Regents' Professors include Roger Rogerson, pictured above, Rondthaler chair of economics; Robert Denhardt, director of the School of Public Affairs; Laurie Chassin, professor of psychology; and Subhash Mahajan, director of the School of Materials.

The President's Professor honor was created to recognize tenured faculty who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate education at ASU. This year's class includes Ted Humphrey, a professor of philosophy in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU; Jane Maienschein, a professor of biology; and Jess Alberts, a professor of communication.

His interest in economics was first piqued when his older brother, upon leaving for graduate school, asked him to return some economics textbooks to a professor.

“When I returned the books, the professor asked me if I was enjoying physics, and I told him I was no longer enchanted with it and that I found it a bit boring and too developed,” Rogerson says. “He suggested economics as an alternative because there were so many exciting new developments and economics was moving toward becoming a more rigorous discipline in terms of methodology.”

Rogerson found the challenges in economics appealing, so after earning an undergraduate degree in physics, he changed direction, pursuing a Ph.D. in economics.

In graduate school at the University of Minnesota , he sat in on some courses taught by Edward C. Prescott. He found himself “both captivated and inspired by Prescott 's approach to thinking about economic issues.”

Subsequently, Prescott became his dissertation adviser.

Rogerson explains that there was a period of transformation taking place in economics in 1979, and Minnesota was one of the schools at the center of an intellectual revolution in macroeconomics.

Prescott was among those at the forefront of the new thinking, along with two other faculty members, Tom Sargent and Neil Wallace. The three were devoted to developing the graduate students who would be the next generation of power macroeconomists.

“When I first started the program, I thought I would study in the field of mathematical economics, but because of the excitement Prescott, Sargent and Wallace created in their work, I was drawn to macroeconomics. I was so fortunate to have been able to study with those three intellectual forces,” says Rogerson.

Almost 30 years later, Prescott, a 2004 Nobel Laureate in Economics and the W. P. Carey Chair of Economics, nominated Rogerson for Regents' Professor.

Prescott says of Rogerson's work as a young graduate student, “I read his dissertation and approved it for defense. At the defense he presented a third essay. When I heard this third essay, I knew it made his dissertation the most important one written in economics in decades.”

Obviously, Prescott still approves of Rogerson's work.

Rogerson acknowledges the dissertation essay Prescott refers to as his most influential paper. In fact, he continues to explore the topic.

A theme that links much of Rogerson's research and teaching is the study of the labor market. It is of particular interest because what happens in the labor market is a critical factor that influences the economic well-being of almost everyone.

A key factor in analyzing many economic issues is the elasticity of aggregate labor supply, which measures how much additional work people would be willing to do if offered a higher wage. For many years, labor economists looking at the data concluded that this elasticity was small. Rogerson's work suggests that the key margin was not people changing how many hours they work, but rather the movement of people between working and not working. His work shows that once this feature is taken into account, and contrary to conventional wisdom, that the aggregate labor supply elasticity is large.

In addition to his research and teaching, Rogerson currently serves as co-editor of the American Economic Review and associate editor of the Review of Economic Dynamics. His publications have appeared in the most prestigious academic journals, including the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy and the Review of Economic Studies. His research portfolio includes papers on business cycle fluctuations, the effects of labor market regulations, and financing of public education and development.

Rogerson now mentors a flock of tomorrow's power economists.

“Mentoring students is a very time-intensive activity, but for me it is very rewarding. When I think about the mentoring that I received as a graduate student and what an impact it had on my development, I feel that this is one way to give back some of what I received,” he says.