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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Andrew Samwick

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:

Andrew Samwick1.jpgAndrew Samwick is the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving Professor of Economics and Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences. His work has stretched from topics like executive compensation to social entrepreneurship, and he has both personally worked on government policy and been instrumental in encouraging young people to do so, too.

Ironically, Samwick’s earliest research concerned retirement. He got his start in economics at Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude and wrote his undergraduate thesis on the British social security system. Later, for his Ph.D. dissertation at M.I.T., Samwick examined how social security and defined pension plans encourage people to stay in jobs and affect when they retire. But his career was just getting started — Samwick joined Dartmouth as his first academic job in 1994.

When Samwick came to Hanover, the Economics department was much smaller, so he taught finance courses almost exclusively for his first ten years or so. He produced some of his most cited research (he has more than 7,000 citations and a h-index of 25 according to Google Scholar) during this period, working with former Tuck professor Rajesh Aggarwal. They co-authored two influential papers on executive compensation — how CEOs of major companies are paid. The first explored the relationship between volatile stock prices and executive performance incentives. The second showed why executives are rarely given pay incentives for their company to perform better than competitors, even though that seems like a logical approach.

Samwick also continued to work on savings and retirement. A paper he co-authored flipped the traditional narrative that households save money directly for retirement, even if that prospect is still decades away. Instead, he found that for a typical household, one-third to one-half of wealth (savings) is based on the relative safety of that household’s earnings. People keep a large portion of their savings not for retirement years later, but as precautionary buffers against the loss of a job or other bad outcomes. Today Samwick is working on a new paper that explains how college financial aid serves as a valuable form of insurance for modern families.

Samwick’s most famous contribution to the public conversation on these topics wasn’t a research paper at all, but his year from 2003-2004 as the Chief Economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. In an attempt by the Bush Administration to reform social security, Samwick worked on the proposal that would create personal retirement accounts for individuals. The idea never gained much traction, largely due to political realities of the time, but Samwick maintains it would have been beneficial, with less government interference (raiding the trust fund) and potentially higher returns offsetting the higher risks and less wealth redistribution. Here’s a Bloomberg TV clip of him talking about social security reform in 2008:

While he was the New Hampshire Professor of the Year in 2009, Samwick doesn’t teach many courses these days. His main course, which will be offered next winter term, is Econ 77: Social Entrepreneurship. Outside of the classroom, Samwick has had a significant impact on the College as director of the Rockefeller Center, a position he assumed in 2004. In that role, he encourages students to engage with public policy and leadership. Samwick created the Rocky First Year Fellows program, which takes the top performing freshman from the Introduction to Public Policy class and gives them the opportunity to qualify for summer internships alongside Dartmouth alumni in Washington D.C. About two dozen students take advantage of the program each year.

Addendum: You can read Samwick’s blog here.

Addendum: A loyal reader writes in:

I took your suggestion and looked at Professor Samwick’s blog. I found this quote, which is both accurate (based on my experience) and to the point (having been written in Hanover):

Education is like many public policy issues today — we spend too much, get too little, and either don’t yet know how to improve on those outcomes or don’t have the leadership skills to implement what we do know.


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