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Stanford’s Levin Wins John Bates Clark Economist Award

Stanford University professor Jonathan Levin won the John Bates Clark medal for the economist under the age of 40 who contributed most to the profession.

“Levin is a leading scholar in the fields of industrial organization and microeconomic theory, whose work stands out for its combination of theoretical depth, empirical methods, and compelling applications,” the American Economic Association said in announcing the award.

The 38-year-old Levin has studied subprime lending, health insurance, the allocation of radio spectrum and the economics of Internet markets. In a series of papers on the subprime automobile market, he found that demand rose sharply during the tax rebate season and was highly correlated to the availability of credit.

Together with Christopher Avery of Harvard University, Levin developed a model to analyze the early admission process for applicants at select colleges. One finding: high school students who applied for early admission had a 20- to 30-percentage point better chance of being chosen compared with those who applied later. That’s equivalent to the student scoring an additional 100 points on the SAT tests, according to the paper.

Levin has done extensive work on auctions, from timber sales by the U.S. Forest Service to online trading at eBay Inc., the San Jose, California-based owner of the world’s largest e-commerce market.

Utility Infielder

Barry Nalebuff, a professor of management at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who co-wrote a paper with Levin on electoral systems, likened the Stanford economist to a utility infielder in baseball who can play every position.

“He can do it all,” said Nalebuff, who is also co-founder and chairman of Honest Tea Inc., a beverage company in Bethesda, Maryland. “He really combines first rate theoretical and first rate empirical work.”

The son of Yale University President Richard Levin, the Stanford, California-based professor received a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in 1999. He did his undergraduate work at Stanford and got his masters in economics from Oxford University in the U.K.

Together with fellow Stanford University professor Paul Milgrom, Levin worked as a consultant to Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo! Inc. a few years ago to try to help the company with the design of its advertising markets.

‘Good Chunk’

“A good chunk of my work has been trying to take modern economic theory that was developed in an abstract way and think about how you could make it really practical,” Levin said.

He said in a telephone interview that he has also focused recently on “industrial organization,” looking at how industries such as the subprime lending are constituted and regulated.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Levin of winning the award, adding that he found out about it via a phone call from the association while he was walking around Stanford’s campus.

Past winners of the award include the late Milton Friedman, New York Times columnist and Princeton University professor Paul Krugman, and Lawrence Summers, former director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Data compiled by Bloomberg News show that recipients of the medal have a little more than one-in-three chance of eventually winning the Nobel Prize in economics.

The John Bates Clark medal, started in 1947 as a biennial prize, is now being awarded annually. It is named after the U.S. economist who died in 1938 after spending most of his career teaching at Columbia University in New York.

Esther Duflo, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the medal last year for her work in development economics.

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