BY RENEE BASICK
Economist Robert E. Lucas Jr. received the Division's prestigious Phoenix Prize on October 7, 2016
Only rarely has the Division of the Social Sciences bestowed the Phoenix Prize, an award that honors a faculty member who, through the course of their career, has changed the trajectory of research in the social sciences and has thus contributed to the cycle of intellectual renewal across the disciplines. October 7, 2016 was one of these occasions. David Nirenberg, Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences, presented the 2016 Phoenix Prize to Nobel laureate Robert E. Lucas Jr., BA’59, PhD’64 at a dinner held in his honor.
Throughout the course of the evening, colleagues, students, friends, and family gathered at the Quadrangle Club to celebrate Lucas' immense contributions to the field of Economics, and ultimately, the shaping of it. After a brief introduction by Nirenberg, Lars Peter Hansen, David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, Statistics & the College; Director and Co-Chair of the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics began the evening's program with an overview of Lucas' contribution to the educational and intellectual environment at the University of Chicago. A longtime colleague of Lucas, Hansen offered many personal anecdotes describing both the culture of the Department of Economics and Lucas' place in it. He explained that, while there were rumors that graduate students feared Lucas, the "empirical evidence said otherwise":
Bob has had an extraordinary number of advisees over the years and has had a major impact on the research of so many of his former students and colleagues. It has been my privilege to witness, firsthand, Bob Lucas' direct influence on Chicago Economics and on the research of so many. Impressively, this impact has now extended for over four decades and it's only fitting that the Social Sciences Division recognize Bob with its highest honor.
Next to offer remarks, Thomas J. Sargent, the William R. Berkley Professor of Economics and Business at NYU, and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, shared the comments of many distinguished scholars, demonstrating the profound impact Lucas has had. He began by describing the type of scholar Lucas was not, which was, "the carpenter who blames his tools." He was, on the other hand, "someone who brought new tools and showed us how to put them to work...on some of the most important problems that society has faced and that economists have contributed some answers to."
In presenting the award to Lucas, Nirenberg described Lucas’ trajectory saying,
His approach is singular for its simultaneous complexity and elegant simplicity. This singular combination is something that many across the long history of the division of the social sciences have aspired to even if few have achieved. And it something that has made all of our Chicago schools distinctive. Bob Lucas is a product of this long history of aspirations not only as a faculty member and colleague but also as an undergraduate here. He is a product of our history of inspiration and also an instantiation of the greatest heights that aspiration can achieve.
Lucas graciously accepted the award to a standing ovation from his peers and thanked his colleagues for the influence and support they provided throughout his career. He then turned to the next generation of economists with whom he continues to work closely:
Increasingly, I find myself looking to students and younger colleagues for guidance and ideas and helping me keep up with the ongoing world of economic theory. I spent many hours thinking of individual people and how much I learned from them but it's a long list and I'm going to have to put that off for another day.
Harold Uhlig, Professor in Economics and the College, concluded dinner with the announcement of the Lucas Prize for Economic Dynamics, which will be awarded biannually to the most interesting paper in economic dynamics published in the Journal of Political Economy (JPE).
VIDEO: Phoenix Prize 2016 Award Dinner Honoring Robert E. Lucas Jr., BA’59, PhD’64