Gary Becker, who died on 3 May 2014 at the age of 83, redefined economics both in its methodology and scope. He radically expanded the sphere of economic analysis. As the range of issues and especially data in economics increased over the last half century, Becker's approach became more and more relevant and modern. He was awarded the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics for “having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including nonmarket behavior.”
We establish five facts about the informal economy in developing countries. First, it is huge, reaching about half of the total in the poorest countries. Second, it has extremely low productivity compared to the formal economy: informal firms are typically small, inefficient, and run by poorly educated entrepreneurs. Third, although avoidance of taxes and regulations is an important reason for informality, the productivity of informal firms is too low for them to thrive in the formal sector. Lowering registration costs neither brings many informal firms into the formal sector, nor unleashes economic growth. Fourth, the informal economy is largely disconnected from the formal economy. Informal firms rarely transition to formality, and continue their existence, often for years or even decades, without much growth or improvement. Fifth, as countries grow and develop, the informal economy eventually shrinks, and the formal economy comes to dominate economic life. These five facts are most consistent with dual models of informality and economic development.
We present a model of investment hangover motivated by the Great Recession. Overbuilding of durable capital such as housing requires a reallocation of productive resources to other sectors, which is facilitated by a reduction in the interest rate. When monetary policy is constrained, overbuilding induces a demand-driven recession with limited reallocation and low output. Investment in other capital initially declines due to low demand, but it later booms and induces an asymmetric recovery in which the overbuilt sector is left behind. Welfare can be improved by expost policies that stimulate investment (including in overbuilt capital), and ex-ante policies that restrict investment.
The 2014 John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association was awarded to Matthew Gentzkow of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The citation recognized Matt’s “fundamental contributions to our understanding of the economic forces driving the creation of media products, the changing nature and role of media in the digital environment, and the effect of media on education and civic engagement.” In addition to his work on the media, Matt has made a number of significant contributions to empirical industrial organization more broadly, as well as to applied economic theory. In this essay, I highlight some of these contributions, which are listed on Table 1. I will be referring to these papers by their number on this list.
Matt earned both his AB in 1997, and, after a brief career in the theatre, his PhD in 2004 from Harvard, where he began to work on the media. At Harvard he also met Jesse Shapiro, his close friend and collaborator. I was one of Matt’s (as well as Jesse’s) thesis advisors. From Harvard, both Matt and Jesse moved to Chicago Booth School, where their research truly thrived and they contributed to a fantastic group of applied economists.