I remember April 1988 as if it was yesterday. I had been accepted by the University of Chicago's Economics PHD program and I flew in to the city where I was born to see if I wanted to try my luck at this rigorous PHD program. The first person I met was Erzo Luttmer and the second person I met was Ed Glaeser. I immediately recognized that I would be swimming in deep water but I'm always at my happiest when I am the dumbest guy in the room.
Things change. In late March, I'm now on the supply side at USC Econ as we try to convince some of our admits to accept our offer. Recruitment day is a like a High School Play's opening night. Nobody on my team is learning their lines or knows where to stand. We will “wing it” but it will work.
USC Econ is an easy product to sell. We hired 5 faculty last year and we have hired 2 more this year. While people point out that USC Econ is a small department that mainly focuses in econometrics, some branches of theory and development, they miss several key details. At USC, the Marshall School is quite strong in finance and macro and the Price School has strength in urban and real estate economics. USC is now home to the Schaeffer Center for Health Economics and Arie Kapteyn's Center for Economic and Social Research. When you add up all of these economists, there are probably 50 functioning PHD economists on campus. That's not too bad!
We are ranked #22 on REPEC and ranked even higher based on our top 10 scholars.
Finally, there is no denying that USC won the Rose Bowl and now has its own train that goes to the downtown and to the beach (the Expo Line that I commute by). Every day it is 75 degrees and sunny. You won't find that amenity in Chicago!
Watch these videos of USC and you will see how we are going to build a university at roughly Columbia's level in the sunshine.
We do face the challenge that we are upgrading our department faster than the perceptions of our department update. For reasons that do not concern me, our department has been slow to make a big investment in applied micro. For years, there wasn't a senior labor economist or public finance economist or international trade scholar. Now, we are converging with other departments and becoming a pinch less quirky. LA is such a desirable city that there are many faculty hiring possibilities. I am very optimistic about our future.