Economics

Jose Cisneros

José Cisneros ’78

In February 2014, President Barack Obama named José Cisneros ’78 to the new President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. In large part, this was an acknowledgement of Cisneros’s work to help lower-income residents in San Francisco enter the financial mainstream. Appointed city treasurer in 2004 and elected to three terms since, Cisneros has spearheaded innovative financial programs for adults as well as kids.

Cisneros launched his Office of Financial Empowerment because he believes that all San Franciscans are responsible for safeguarding the city’s money. “When people use fewer resources, maintain current resources, and contribute new resources through taxes, San Francisco stays strong,” he says.

Perhaps his most well-known program is Kindergarten to College, credited with helping thousands of children from low-income families start saving and planning for higher education.

The program works this way: each fall, as some 4,500 new kindergartners begin public school in the city, they receive an initial deposit of $50 in a savings account. In the years between kindergarten and college, a student’s family can add to the account and receive bonuses and matching funds in the process. Families can withdraw from the account only to pay for tuition and other expenses for the child’s postsecondary education.

“We all know $50 is not going to pay for college,” Cisneros told one interviewer. “[But] just the existence of the account builds aspiration in the child’s mind.” And this assertion is backed up by research: a 2010 Washington University study reported that children with savings accounts are up to seven times more likely to attend college than those without an account.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in management at MIT, Cisneros worked in both finance and management at Bank of Boston, Lotus Development, and IBM. That, followed by two years at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, gave him the skills he’s used to tackle such
ambitious projects.

Cisneros’s dream of financially empowering low-income families now extends beyond San Francisco. More than 100 cities and communities have replicated his office’s Bank On program, which helps families find and enroll in fee-free checking accounts. In 2008, in partnership with New York City, Cisneros founded the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition. The coalition now works to advance financial empowerment opportunities in 14 major cities across the United States. More than 21 million American households have access to its programs.

Last year was an exciting one for Cisneros personally as well. A longtime advocate of rights for same-sex couples in California, he married his partner of 24 years in August.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, a prolific author, political activist, and philosopher, is one of MIT’s greatest scientists. He created the field of modern linguistics—the scientific study of language—and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

In the January 2015 Faculty Forum Online on Tuesday, January 20, Chomsky will shared insights on his career, took live questions, and discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to MIT.

Watch the interview then share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #MITFaculty.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

Chomsky in the Press
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per academic year, the Faculty Forum Online presents interactive interviews with MIT faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, climate policy, and climate research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions on YouTube and MIT TechTV have been viewed nearly than 100,000 times.

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Michael Schlein

Michael Schlein ’84, SM ’84

For Michael Schlein ’84, SM ’84, the best part of his job is meeting clients—people whose lives are changed with a little boost. Recently, in a modest office building in remote northeast India, Schlein met a woman named Radha Devi, who was applying for a loan to buy a second sewing machine.

“She told me the first loan felt like charity, but the second felt like a business transaction,” he says. “She had earned it. She was empowered and proud.”

Schlein is president and CEO of Accion, a nonprofit group providing microloans and other financial services to millions of people living in poverty in 34 countries. His career has taken him through both public service and the private sector.


Schlein outlines the mission of Accion. Video via Accion Global

He earned degrees in economics and political science during five years at MIT, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After a first job in investment banking, he served as chief of staff to the New York City deputy mayor for finance and economic development and then as chief of staff at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 1997 he returned to banking, managing 100 country officers for Citigroup and running communications, philanthropy, and government relations. He first became interested in microfinance through the Citi Foundation’s work with Accion, and he joined the nonprofit in 2009. Under Schlein, Accion has supported a Chilean company that is a pioneer in lending via cell phones and a South African company that brought microinsurance to people with AIDS.

In 2014, he was appointed chair of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, an unpaid position, by a colleague from his days in city government: Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Forty-six percent of people living in New York are at or near the poverty line,” he says. “We want to make sure that the New York City economy works for everyone.”

Both Accion and the NYCEDC run on the same kind of practical idealism that drives MIT, Schlein says: “MIT instills in everyone, including me, a real pragmatism that comes from engineering. Lofty ideas have their place, but getting things to happen is what’s really important.”

Schlein lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Jordan Tamagni, who works at Unicef, and their two young sons. He enjoys speaking and recruiting at MIT. “More and more,” he says, “students want to know how to find work combining their desire to have a good career with their interest in making the world a better place.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Images via mit.edu

Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86 and Robert Solow HM ’90. Images via mit.edu.

The White House announced earlier today that Institute Professors Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86 and Robert Solow HM ’90 will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The professors are part of a group of 19 recipients who will be honored at a White Ceremony on November 24, 2014.

Dresselhaus, who joined the MIT faculty in 1967, is known as the “Queen of Carbon Science” with nearly 60 years of research in condensed matter, materials physics, and multi-faceted forms of carbon. She received the National Medal of Science in 1990 and was previously honored by President Obama with the Enrico Fermi Award in 2012.

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Office of the White House Press Secretary

“Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation.  A professor of physics and electrical engineering at MIT, she is best known for deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon, which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.”

Solow, who joined the MIT faculty in 1949, is an economist whose work on the theory of economic growth resulted in the eponymous Solow–Swan model, an economic model developed in 1956 that explains economic growth through capital accumulation, labor growth, population growth, and productivity. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences  in 1987 and the National Medal of Science in 1999.

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Office of the White House Press Secretary

“Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past sixty years. His research in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s transformed the field, laying the groundwork for much of modern economics.  He continues to influence policy makers, demonstrating how smart investments, especially in new technology, can build broad-based prosperity, and he continues to actively participate in contemporary debates about inequality and economic growth.  He is a Nobel laureate, winning the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1987.”

Read more about  Dresselhaus and Solow on MIT News.

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Update: View the archived webcast.

Nearly five million people have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, according to recent reports, and the white collar workforce makes up a sizable amount of that group. In the next Faculty Forum Online,  MIT Sloan Professor Ofer Sharone tackled this issue and discussed a new initiative that could help the long-term unemployed overcome common employment-related obstacles.

Sharone

MIT Sloan Professor Ofer Sharone

During the webcast, Sharone shared his research, explained factors behind long-term unemployment, discussed his recent book, Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences, and took live questions from the worldwide MIT community via interactive chat. Watch the webcast then return to Slice of MIT and continue the conversation in the comments.

About Ofer Sharone

Ofer Sharone is the Mitsubishi Career Development Professor and assistant professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the founder of the Institute for Career Transitions, an MIT-based think tank that generates strategies and offers support for professionals in career transitions. His research focuses on examines the exchange between varied labor markets and workplace institutions, and workers’ practices and experiences.

Sharone has been featured on PBS Newshour, the Boston Globe, and Harvard Business Review. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois, a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School, and a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.


Ofer Sharone discusses long-term unemployment on PBS Newshour.

Sharone in the Press

Project aims to assist long-term unemployed: MIT professor launching effort to help them overcome barriers,” Boston Globe, November 17, 2013

The American Way of Hiring Is Making Long-Term Unemployment Worse,” Harvard Business Review, December 13, 2013

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per season, the Faculty Forum Online presents compelling interviews with faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, and climate policy and research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions of these programs have been viewed more than 75,000 times.

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This past February, President Obama named José Cisneros ’78 to his new President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

In large part, this was an acknowledgement of Cisneros’s work with the youngest of Americans in San Francisco, where he serves as city treasurer. Launching the city’s Kindergarten to College Program in 2011, Cisneros is credited with helping secure college funding for thousands of children from low-income families.

The program works this way: each fall, as 4,500 new kindergarteners begin school in the city, Cisneros’s office issues them custodial bank accounts in the amount of $50. In the years between kindergarten and college, the student’s family can add savings to the account and receive bonuses and matching funds in the process. Families can withdraw from the tax-free account only to pay for tuition and book for the child’s post-secondary education.

José Cisneros '78.

José Cisneros ’78.

“We all know $50 is not going to pay for college,” Cisneros told one interviewer. “[But] just the existence of the account builds aspiration in the child’s mind.”

The program, based in part on research claiming that children with a designated college fund are seven times more likely to eventually attend college, has earned widespread attention. But it has not been easy.

“It was a daunting logistical challenge,” says Cisneros. “Legally, logistically, and functionally. Our initial dream was to open up 529 accounts for students”–a traditional family college-savings account—“but for a number of different reasons that didn’t work.”

In the program’s third year, Cisneros is pleased with the results he already sees. Over 12 percent of families have been contributing regularly to the accounts, achieving incentives and receiving matching funds, which have been provided by private donors.

That’s markedly better than the national average. “A recent study by the General Accounting Office that looked at children’s savings accounts nationwide reported that 3 percent of kids growing up in the USA today have 529 accounts,” says Cisneros.

To date, over 1,500 families in San Francisco have contributed $790,000 of their own funds to the accounts. In a city where 18,000 families don’t even have bank accounts, Cisneros hopes to see at least half of participating families doing contributing.

After selecting Citibank to operate the accounts, which now number more than 13,000, Cisneros says the city also faces a database challenge, one he expects some fellow MIT grads could solve.

“Just to make sure we are being fully accurate, we duplicate all the information for the accounts in our own in-house system,” he says. “So we’ve become a brand new bank account management server, helping families work with the bank much of the time. There’s got to be a better way to go about it.”

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Jean Tirole PhD ’81. Photo: MIT Department of Economics

Jean Tirole PhD ’81, a former MIT faculty member from 1984-1991, has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his analysis of market power and regulation and his research on oligopolies—when a small number of businesses dominate and control the goods produced in a given industry.

He is the 32nd MIT alumnus to win the Nobel Prize and the eight winner in the previous 10 years. In 2013, Robert J. Shiller SM ’68, PhD ’72 was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his empirical analysis of asset prices.

Tirole is currently a professor of economics at France’s University of Toulouse and holds a faculty affiliate position in MIT’s Department of Economics. According to MIT News, he was also recognized for his findings on regulatory policy.

Nobel awarded to economist who taught, earned doctorate at MIT,” Boston Globe:

“The Nobel committee cited his analyses on how monopolies and cartels wield power in the marketplace and how governments respond. Tirole’s research and writings could be a resource for governments that seek to regulate industries where power is concentrated among a few companies, such as telecommunications and banking, the committee said.”

According to the Globe, Tirole is the lone recipient of the 2014 economic sciences award, and he will receive a prize of $1.1 million. Listen to a phone interview with Tirole recorded immediately following the announcement.

In addition to being the 32nd Nobel-winning MIT alumnus, Tirole is becomes the 81st MIT-connected Nobel winner overall. View the full list of Nobel Prize-winning MIT alumni, descending by award year, below.

Nobel_Prize_Updated

Click for larger image.

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Guest blogger: Nicole Taylor, Continuum

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has populated nearly half its Generation Next list—which celebrates 25 economists under the age of 45—with MIT faculty and alumni. In some cases, the featured economists are both: Esther Duflo PhD ’99, Amy Finkelstein PhD ’01, and Kristin Forbes PhD ’98 all hold endowed chairs in MIT’s Department of Economics.

The 12 scholars listed below study diverse topics—poverty and health care, education and real estate, crime and taxes—but what they have in common is their demonstration of early leadership in global economics.

Melissa Dell PhD ’12, a Harvard assistant professor, has studied how government crackdowns on drug violence can influence economic outcomes. Her most recent publication, whose coauthors include MIT’s Benjamin Olken, looks at the economic effects of climate.

Esther Duflo PhD '99

Esther Duflo PhD ’99

Esther Duflo PhD ’99  is MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, and a founder and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). With Abhijit Banerjee, she is the author of Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. She focuses on microeconomic issues in developing economies, including household behavior, education, access to finance, health, and policy evaluation.

Emmanuel Farhi PhD ’06, a Harvard professor, is a macroeconomist who works on monetary economics, international economics, finance and public finance—including research on global imbalances, monetary and fiscal policy, and taxation.

Amy Finkelstein PhD ’01, MIT’s Ford Professor of Economics, researches the impact of public policy on health care systems, government intervention in health insurance markets, and market failures. She is quoted frequently in the media on such topics as advocating for more randomized trials in social science and why the expansion of Medicaid increases ER visits.

Kristin Forbes PhD ’98 applies her research to policy questions related to international macroeconomics and finance. The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Global Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, she was named in May to the UK Monetary Policy Committee.

Jonathan Levin PhD ’99, a professor at Stanford University, is an expert on industrial organization and microeconomic theory, specifically on the economics of contracting, organizations, and market design. His recent research has included a focus on Internet commerce.

Atif Mian PhD '96, PhD '01

Atif Mian 96, PhD ’01

 Atif Mian ’96, PhD ’01, based at Princeton University, studies the connections between finance and the macro economy. He is coauthor (with Amir Sufi PhD ′05) of the critically acclaimed House of Debt, which builds on powerful new data to describe how debt precipitated the Great Recession and continues to threaten the global economy.

Parag Pathak, who joined MIT’s faculty in 2008, is a director of the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative. He is the found­ing co-director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Working Group on Market Design. Pathak has recently published work on such topics as the end of rent control in Cambridge, MA, and achievement effects at elite East Coast high schools.

Thomas Philippon PhD ’03, a professor of finance at New York University, studies the interactions of finance and macroeconomics: risk premia and corporate investment, financial crisis and systemic risk, and the evolution of financial intermediation. A French native, he served in 2012–13 as senior economic advisor to the French finance minister.

Emmanuel Saez PhD ’99, director of the Center for Equitable Growth at the University of California, Berkeley, is recognized for using both theoretical and empirical approaches to income inequality and tax policy. His joint work on this topic with economist Thomas Piketty has fueled public debate.

Amir Sufi PhD ’05 is on the faculty of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is coauthor with Atif Mian ’96, PhD ’01 of House of Debt. He studies links between finance and the macro economy, including the effect of housing prices on spending and the effect of corporate finance on investment.

Iván Werning

Iván Werning

Iván Werning is a macroeconomist on the MIT faculty who aims to improve tax and unemployment insurance policies via theoretical economic models. He studies stabilization and monetary policy, including macroprudential policy, as well as optimal taxation. In 2010 he shared, in an MIT News interview, his vision for an ideal unemployment policy.

See the full list of the IMF’s 25 picks, published in this month’s edition of Finance & Development. And learn more about economics at MIT.

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Placing adults with special needs in fulfilling jobs has often been a pursuit of non-profit organizations. What if for-profit companies tried doing it?

rajeshanandan

Rajesh Anandan ’95, MEng ’96.

Two former MIT roommates, Rajesh Anandan ’95, MEng ’96 and Art Shectman ’95, founded ULTRA Testing in 2012 to try just that.

In their third year of helping adults on the autism spectrum find meaningful work, Anandan and Shectman say this nontraditional business model is working. This year, they expect to produce over $1 million in revenues.

ULTRA Testing capitalizes on talents that adults with autism and Asperger’s syndrome typically bring to the workplace. A testing company that does quality assurance for new software products seemed like a perfect fit for those with traditionally high pattern recognition skills and attention to detail.

The idea to create ULTRA was born out of frustration, says Anandan. “My wife is a child psychologist who has done a lot of work with kids on the autism spectrum. She came home from work one day and wondered why we spend so much effort on what kids were not good at—like social interactions—but so little time on what they could be great at,” he says.

The two alumni started small, working with a small team of adults recommended by the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership in New York.

They found clients who needed website and app testing on their products before launch. ULTRA offered prices competitive with the best firms that do such work, and their testers earned high praise for quality work.

This year, they have employed 10 testers. Anandan says he hopes to see it grow to 300 in the year ahead.

With more than 1.5 million adults in the U.S. workforce who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, 80% of whom are unemployed, the ULTRA founders believe there is a market for this useful service. And they believe that for-profits can help the nonprofit sector, where they already have much experience, lower that unemployment rate.

Art Shectman '95.

Art Shectman ’95.

“It will take a combination of for profit and non-profit approaches,” says Anandan. “It will require smarter training and coaching and appropriate work and work environments. The latter is what we’re focused on. We believe that a for-profit model is more likely to achieve impact at scale.”

As a Business Insider interview with an ULTRA employee noted last week, many adults with autism may lack the social skills for traditional job interviews or for working in large teams, but meet and exceed demands in high-functioning roles.

“Ultimately, we’re building a new kind of workplace and corporate culture,” Anandan says, “that effectively combines the talents of individuals with different abilities, whether they are on the spectrum or neurotypical, so that we can deliver a high-quality, easily consumable service that our clients need.”

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Fariborz Ghadar ’68, SM ’70 has spent much of his life on the road.

On a consulting call a few years back, Ghadar struck up conversation on an airplane with a young man named Mohammed who was seated next to him. ghadar

“Mohammed said he was getting his PhD in oil fracking,” Ghadar recalls. “I said, ‘You must be in great demand.’ He said ‘Yes, but I’m going to end up going to Australia.’ I asked him why he wasn’t staying here. ‘Well they can’t get me an H-1B visa,’ he said. This is an industry that’s making us self-sufficient in gas and oil, and here’s a critical person getting a PhD in this area. And our industries can’t keep him here?”

That encounter inspired a new book, Becoming American: Why Immigration Is Good for Our Nation’s Future. Hear Ghadar discuss the book in this Alumni Books Podcast.

An author of 14 books, Ghadar is founding director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State University and Distinguished Scholar and Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. Until this book, he says, he had never addressed immigration, a topic that has long concerned him. And the timing of its publication this spring couldn’t be better, he says. For a federal government stalled on immigration reform, the book offers several contemporary stories of immigrants overcoming the hurdles and misconceptions about them to find success in America.

Ghadar begins by debunking myths about immigration and offering research and data in their place: immigrants, as a percentage of the U.S. population, are not at an all-time high; 42 percent of all current Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants; and spending by immigrants and their families will surpass $2 trillion this year.

The book ends with a chapter entitled “Blueprints for Policymakers” at a time when Ghadar believes Congress needs one most. “The political system has come to a stall,” he says. “You can argue the statistics and the facts and show them what is going on, but people are getting scared and paranoid. It’s going to take a while for reality to come back in.”

Fariborz Ghadar '68, SM '70.

Fariborz Ghadar ’68, SM ’70.

Ghadar also interlaces memoir into his argument. He tells his family’s story of emigrating from and back to Iran both before and after college. His father, the head of its intelligence agency, resigned just before the Shah was toppled, and Ghadar, then a minister of exports, also foresaw bleak times for his native land.

“Like many other immigrants before and after me, I had become aerodynamic,” Ghadar writes. “Shaped by the stronger than normal forces I had encountered in my lifetime as an immigrant. I worked hard not to be knocked over by these forces, which often led to sacrifices.”

Listen to the complete podcast interview here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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