The Closing: Robert Shiller

Nov.November 01, 2007 11:49 AM

What is your name?

Robert James Shiller

When is your birthday and what’s your sign?

March 29, 1946. I am an Aries, not that I believe in such things.

Who are your parents?

Benjamin and Ruth.

Where did you grow up and where did you attend college?

Detroit, Mich. I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and then I got a PhD at MIT in economics.

What is your job?

The official title is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics at Yale.

What are your greatest achievements professionally?

I wrote the first edition of Irrational Exuberance in 2000, about the stock market [which correctly predicted the dot-com bust]. The second edition was recently released, on the real estate market as I interpreted it. I’ve written five books and over 100 journal articles.

What has been your biggest contribution to society?

Education. I’ve been teaching since 1972. I also co-developed a futures and options market on real estate [which began trading in late May on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange].

Who is your hero? Why?

The original Adam Smith, who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. He launched the field of economics, and because he was a moral philosopher, he had a sense of law and purpose in what he did.

What do you read every day?

I have an addiction to reading, and I’ve always been very broad. But I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, the Economist, BusinessWeek, and I particularly enjoy Science and Nature.

Do you feel rich? Successful? Happy?

Yes. I am happily married. I have two fine children. I have a wonderful job which brings me in contact with young people.

What is your philosophy on love and money?

I’ve been married to the same woman for 30 years, so I believe in long-term consistency, and money is just a game to me as long as you have enough. My parents would be surprised, because as a child I never showed any interest in monetary things. I wanted to be a professor. I found it amusing to make money.

What’s the secret to a happy marriage?

Mutual support. I try to look at the positive things of it. I married a psychologist, so she thinks there is a science to it.

What’s your idea of the perfect Sunday afternoon?

Sitting by the seashore thinking about the intricacies of economics with my wife sitting beside me.

How do you size up people when you first meet them?

I value sincerity and if they look you in the eye.

If you were mayor of New York, what is the first thing you would change about the city?

I might not rebuild the World Trade Center. It’s challenging the terrorists. A little park and monument is not backing down.

And what would you fight to keep the same?

I guess it was under Mayor Giuliani that we got rid of a lot of the graffiti and trash, and it’s a brighter, safer and more civilized place, and I would want to keep that.

How do you deal with antagonists?

Going back to my childhood, I would tend to not pacify people, but I would tend to stall and hope they would turn their aggression to someone else.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Conventional thinking.

What do you consider to be your greatest vice?

I work too hard. It sometimes takes away from the finer things in life.

Give advice to someone 20 years younger.

I think young people often underestimate their own human capital. Your investment in yourself is to improve yourself with education, improve your knowledge, your skills. With every decision you have to ask yourself, “How will I grow from this experience?”

What’s the biggest professional gaffe you’ve ever made?

Waiting too long to take a broader view of economics. I started out in economics studying some very narrow things. As I got confidence, I became a lot more of a broad thinker.

What was the biggest obstacle on the path to succeeding?

I am always short of time. There is a famous quote from Napoleon: “Ask anything of me but my time.”

What should be the first sentence of your eulogy?

“Time and chance happeneth to them all.” It’s Ecclesiastes 9:11. I don’t always quote the Bible, but I thought that was a very profound passage about the role of chance in our lives. My mission in life has been to use our wit and intellect to reduce the role of chance as much as possible. But there is an irreducible component.

What is people’s biggest misperception about you?

I wish I knew the answer to that.


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