Eric Maskin: ‘The Secret of a Successful Career Is Not a Secret’
On the September 19th Eric Maskin, Nobel laureate in economics, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University (USA), Chief Research Fellow at the HSE International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis, arrived in Moscow again. What is his programme for this visit to the HSE?
— How long will you stay in Moscow this time and what are you planning to do here?
— As usual, I’ll stay in Moscow for 10 days. This year I’m coming to the HSE three times, and each visit will last 10 days, so in total I’ll be spending 30 days in Russia. The next visit will be in December. I’m continuing my lecture course on Mechanism Design: I’ve just given a couple of three-hour lectures in Moscow and I’ll give two more lectures over the weekends, but not in Moscow. My students, some faculty members and I are going to Yaroslavl for the coming weekend for a change of scene. We plan to go on working there anyway. So lecturing is just one of the things that I’m doing. Yesterday I gave a research seminar presenting some recent work that I’ve done. Also, I meet and talk to my students and research colleagues on a daily basis.
— What was the topic of your lecture today?
— I did a couple of things today. I looked at implementation in Sub Game Perfect Equilibrium, so how to design mechanisms for particular game theoretic solution concepts. And I also looked at the question of how to design mechanisms when players have incomplete information meaning that one player doesn’t know what the other player knows. It turns out that even when players don’t know each other’s information; it’s still possible to design good mechanisms. They are just a little bit more complicated than when players know all the info.
— What are your impressions of the educational level of our students? Are they well prepared and do they understand what you’re talking about?
— I’m sure they are; they all have very strong backgrounds in Economics and Game theory. I don’t think they have any trouble understanding my lectures. Of course, really, you should ask them to make sure, but judging from the questions that they ask, I think they have no problem. Some of their questions were very perceptive, suggesting that the students understand the subtlety of the arguments. In fact, I’m very pleased with this sort of questions.
— Can you say a few words about the seminar that you gave to the HSE faculty, please?
— I was talking about mechanism design again, but in particular about some recent findings and discoveries in this field. I concentrated on three issues: one was to do with auction theory and the design of selling procedures; another with robustness mechanisms, which means the ability to design mechanisms which are not very sensitive to the details of what people know or don’t know; and the third issue was concerned with contracts and agreements between buyer and seller. You can think of the design of contracts as the design of a particular kind of mechanism. Mechanism design theory certainly applies to contract design as well.
— Can we talk about your current research, please? What is the project you are most interested in at the moment?
— You know, what I find most interesting changes all the time. Well, I suppose we could talk about the conference in Germany I plan to take part in soon. And one thing I’m going to talk about there is the application of mechanism design to some problems of the European Union. One of them is connected to the fact that the responsibility for monetary policy has been given to the European Central Bank, while fiscal policy is determined by the individual countries of the EU. So there is a conflict between the centralized monetary policy and the decentralized fiscal policy. What I propose is that fiscal policy in Europe should be transferred to a quasi-independent authority like the European Central Bank which can operate independently of the governments of European countries. The Bank is not a subject to a lot of political pressure, so fiscal policy would be free of political pressure as well. This might be one way of solving the problem of series of debt crisis that Europe faces.
— If I remember rightly, last spring you mentioned your joint project with Professor Fuad Aleskerov on traffic problems in Moscow.
— We are going to be talking about that later this week. So far we have had neither the time nor the opportunity to discuss this. Serious works remain to be done. If you ask me again during my next visit, I’ll probably be able to tell you more about it.
— What would you recommend to our students and young scholars in terms of their career development?
— I believe that the most attractive feature of academic work is that every researcher can choose what he or she wants to work on. It’s this independence that is the best thing. So, I guess, I would say to graduate students: ‘Take advantage of this independence and work on problems that really interest you. Don’t worry if they interest other people, but always work really hard. The secret of a successful career is not actually a secret: just do the things that you like and work as hard as you can to answer the most important questions. That’s it’.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service
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