Nobel Laureate Becker to be Among Economists Addressing Conference

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: October 26, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Nobel laureate Gary Becker will be among the notable economists who will be attending the inaugural conference of the University at Buffalo's Signature Center of Excellence on Human Capital, Technology Transfer and Economic Growth and Development, being held tomorrow and Saturday in the Buffalo Niagara Marriott.

The conference also will be the inaugural event for the new Journal of Human Capital, which will be headquartered at the center and published by the prestigious University of Chicago Press.

The conference is being funded by a $750,000 faculty development grant that UB faculty member Isaac Ehrlich received from the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR) to establish the Center of Excellence on Human Capital.

The papers to be delivered at the conference "cover a wide range of issues in the economics field involving the role of human capital in the economy," says Ehrlich, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Economics in UB's College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the center. Ehrlich calls the lineup of presenters and discussants "star-studded," noting that the participants are particularly well-known in the field. Among them are Nancy Stokey, Kevin Murphy and Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago and Robert Hall of Stanford University.

Sixty individuals, including paper givers and discussants, are expected to attend the conference, with another 20 to attend the conference dinner on Friday night, Ehrlich says.

UB President John B. Simpson will open the conference at 8:45 a.m. tomorrow with welcoming remarks. Sessions will be held all day tomorrow and Saturday morning.

Russell Bessette, former executive director of NYSTAR who now serves as a scientific advisor to the agency, will speak at the conference dinner. Also speaking will be representatives of the University of Chicago Press and Becker, professor at the University of Chicago and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Human Capital. Becker also will deliver a paper, "Education and Consumption," at the conference with Chicago colleague Murphy.

The Center of Excellence on Human Capital dovetails with the growing recognition in the economics field of the importance of human capital as a key asset driving economic performance, structural change and general well-being, especially in today's economy.

"We live in a fast-evolving, increasingly global 'knowledge economy' that is transforming economic activity and generating significant increases in technological innovation, international trade, human longevity and related demographic changes," Ehrlich says, pointing out that this is a common research theme for a large number of his colleagues in the economics department who are center affiliates.

"The center will explore the role especially of higher education, health, innovation and technology transfer in determining these changes at the firm, industry, macro and global levels," he says.

The center also will conduct applied and sponsored research concerning economic development issues in Western and upstate New York. Center affiliates also include researchers from the School of Management, the Graduate School of Education and scholars from other universities.

Ehrlich is especially thrilled that the University of Chicago Press will publish the Journal of Human Capital.

"This is indeed an important development," he says, noting that the University of Chicago press publishes top-ranked journals in economics, as well as in sociology, law, history, medicine and astrophysics, among others. "This is a huge opportunity to house the editorial office of a major-league journal of economics at UB.

The Journal of Human Capital, of which Ehrlich will serve as editor-in-chief, is unique in that it is organized around a common theme overlying all areas of research in the field, as opposed to any conventional area of specialization.

"It thus aims to become a general-interest outlet of economic inquiry with the 'knowledge economy' being its subtext," Ehrlich explains.

He says four Nobel Laureates have signed on as members of the journal's editorial board -- James Heckman and Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, and Edward Prescott of Arizona State University, as well as Becker—and other top economists will serve as associate editors.

Ehrlich expects the first issue of the journal to be published sometime in 2007.