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Interview with H. David Robison, Ph.D.
1. What first made you want to study economics?
I have no idea when I first wanted to study economics or what made me want to study economics - it was more of an evolution than a revolution. When I needed to sign up for courses for my first term in college, one of the options was entitled: “The Economics Problems of Monopoly,” which sounded interesting to me. While I enjoyed that course, I enjoyed most of the courses that I took in a variety of subjects including several business disciplines. I saw relatively little distinction between economics and business and generally pursued both in addition to mathematics and computer science (my college had no formal majors). As I moved towards graduation, I looked at a variety of graduate options and selected economics PhD because I was offered a research assistantship with the INFORUM project that built and maintained computerized models of economies and economic systems. It was that work that solidified me as an economist – but an applied economist.
2. Why do you believe that economics is an important subject to study/learn?
Some of the more recent textbooks define economics as “the science of decision making,” while more traditional ones use: “the study of the allocation of scarce resources.” Either way, because we all have to make decisions about how to allocate what little time, money, intellect, and energy that we have, understanding the process of decision making is critical. Thus, at a micro level, studying economics will improve your personal decision making skills. At a more macro level, I think it is important for students to understand the basic workings of an economy to be better citizens. With an understanding of macroeconomics, people can better evaluate the policy proposals put forward by politicians to see if the results predicted by the politicians are reasonable or not.
3. Describe in detail your current research.
My main research project is a game-theory paper that examines the incentive that corporate CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) have to commit financial fraud created by the large number of stock options granted as compensation. If the CEO can artificially raise the stock price by committing financial fraud and cash in his/her options, the CEO can earn many millions of dollars if they have a lot of stock options. With relatively few options, the extra income probably will not be worth the potential penalties from being caught committing the fraud. On the other hand, if the CEO has huge numbers of stock options, the gain can easily be in the hundreds of millions of dollars – as seen in some cases from the early 2000’s. Our paper is currently focusing on how investors should update their thinking in response to information provided by corporate CEOs.
4. Professionally, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
If I have to pick just one thing, I am proud of how many students our department has helped over the years - both the majors and the non-majors. It is always heartwarming to hear from them with what is happening in their lives. As a researcher, I am proud that my work in environmental economics has contributed to our understanding of environmental problems as evidenced by the number and quality of the citations that my research has earned.
5. Professionally, what would you still like to pursue?
As a researcher, my first love has always been environmental economics. I would like to be able to update the work from my first paper which was published in The Review of Economics and Statistics entitled “Who Pays for Industrial Pollution Abatement?” It is my hypothesis that, while the environmental regulations have gotten tighter over time and more firms have come into compliance, the impact on product prices has not changed much from the time of the first paper because of increased efficiency in abatement technology and improvements in regulatory efficiency. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the government stopped collecting the data needed years ago. Nonetheless, I have hopes of pursuing the project somewhere down the road using what data is available. As a professor, I would also like to offer some additional classes – such as an industrial organization or regulatory economics course some day.
6. What continues to make teaching a satisfying experience for you and why?
Teaching remains satisfying for several reasons. First, I enjoy studying economics. I find that I continue to find new points or examples as I prepare my courses. Second, I enjoy the classroom interactions because students always offer some interesting perspectives. Third, when I hear from former students about how the classes affected them, it encourages me to keep going to help the next group of students.
7. Besides economics what other subjects interest you the most?
Because I see economics in all areas, I cannot say what “other subjects” because I am interested in the economics of the other subject – which ultimately makes the economics. As might be inferred by my research interests, I am interested in the environment, in financial markets, and corporate strategy. But, each of these interests stems from economics.
8. Outside of the classroom, what activities or hobbies do you enjoy the most?
My main hobby is working out – primarily power walking and biking. I also spend time reading and listening to music (sometimes simultaneously). My other activity is spending time with my family.