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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Jonathan Skinner

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Jon Skinner1.jpgJonathan Skinner is the James O. Freedman Presidential Professor in Economics as well as the Professor of Family and Community Health at the Geisel School. His expertise in the field of health care economics has led him to contribute significantly to the current debates around the rising costs and future of health care in the United States.

Skinner graduated from the University of Rochester in 1977, magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science and economics. Afterward, he left the cold reaches of upstate New York for the sunny beaches of UCLA, where he earned both his Masters and Ph.D. in economics. He subsequently settling into a tenure track position at the University of Virginia from 1981 to 1995, with visiting stints at the University of Washington, Stanford, and Harvard

Since coming to Dartmouth in 1995, Skinner has served the College in many roles, including as Chair of the Economics department and holder of two different professorships named after College Presidents: first John Sloan Dickey and now Freedman. He is a professor at Geisel and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, and a senior scholar at The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.

Skinner’s research is among the most cited of all professors at Dartmouth. According to Google Scholar, he has nearly 18,000 citations and 36 papers with at least 100 citations. His h-index of 71 places him among the top three professors in the faculty of Arts & Sciences.

The paper Skinner co-authored that has the most citations (1,375) was a piece for the Journal of Political Economy in 1994 with the title of Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance. It illustrated that certain social welfare programs encouraged poor families to spend rather than save their money:

In 1990, Grace Capetillo, a single mother receiving welfare assistance, was charged by the Milwaukee County Department of Social Services with fraud. Her crime: Her saving account balance exceeded $1000, the allowable asset limit for welfare recipients. How do programs with asset restrictions, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and food stamps, affect the incentive to accumulate wealth?

As you might guess, the answer is not positive. Previous work on the savings rate gap between the poor and wealthy had focused only on earnings-based means tests, but restrictions in some social insurance programs incentivize their recipients to avoid accumulating assets. (A similar problem exists in the asset-based tests used for college financial aid scholarships that create an implicit tax on savings.)

More recently, Skinner has been cited in major publications on subjects such as the abnormally high cost of health care for dementia patients. In 2014 he and his coauthors also predicted that spending on health care in the United States will outpace economic growth by 1.2 percentage points over the next 20 years (full paper here). If you have an hour to spare, watch this talk Skinner gave in 2013 on the future of Medicare, which he calls “a really amazing program, and somewhat under-appreciated among people who have really come to take it for granted”:

In addition to all of Skinner’s research, he has served in various capacities at the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Academy of Science. He also teaches in the Masters of Health Care Delivery Science program and Economics 28 for undergraduates, an intermediate course focused on “public economics” — the intricate relationship between the economy and various levels of government activity.

Addendum: Here’s a fun panoramic photo from 2010 of Skinner capturing the attention of his Econ 28 class — with the possible exception of one student working on his laptop in the front row.

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