Paul Volcker Lecture in Behavioral Economics

"What Might be Wrong with Behavioral Economics"

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey delivered the Fifth Annual Paul Volcker Lecture in Behavioral Economics on Monday, April 8, 2019 in the Maxwell Auditorium at 4:00pm. A video of Dr. McCloskey's lecture can be viewed on the Maxwell School YouTube page

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey was until 2015 Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication, Adjunct in Classics and Philosophy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained in the 1960s at Harvard as an economist, she has written 18 books and about 400 scholarly articles and numerous journalistic pieces on economic theory, economic history, philosophy, rhetoric, feminism, political theory, ethics, and law. She is known as a conservative, Chicago-School style economist (she taught in Economics at the University of Chicago from 1968 to 1980), but describes herself as “a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man.” She routinely challenges convention opinion in economics, history, and their methods. Her co-authored 2008 book, for example, The Cult of Statistical Significance, shows that statistical significance without economic significance is meaningless. 

McCloskey's early scholarly work was on economic history, on British economic "failure" in the 19th century, British trade and growth in the 19th century, open field agriculture in the middle ages, the Gold Standard, and the Industrial Revolution. Her philosophical books include The Rhetoric of Economics (1985), If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (1990), and Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (1994). They diagnose the maladies of social scientific positivism, the epistemological limits of a future social science, and the promise of a rhetorically sophisticated philosophy of science.

In the past decades, she has broadened to world economic history and liberal politics. Her notable trilogy, The Bourgeois Era (2006, 2010, 2016), winner in 2017 of the Hayek Book Prize, explains and defends the unprecedented Great Enrichment of the past two centuries, proposing a humanistic as against materialist explanation for the modern world. 

About the Volcker Lecture & Symposium 

The Volcker Chair was endowed by Robert Menschel, senior director at Goldman Sachs Group and trustee emeritus of Syracuse University.“ The critically important field of behavioral economics, although relatively new, has quickly become central to policy makers and corporate leaders in their decision making,” observes Menschel, the author of Markets, Mobs, and Mayhem:  A Modern Look at the Madness of Crowds.“ Paul Volcker is the nation’s preeminent economist who epitomizes the very best thinking in this area.” Volcker’s distinguished career includes eight years as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan; four years as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and two years as chair of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. In addition, he served as Undersecretary of Treasury for international monetary affairs and was chairman of the prominent New York investment banking firm, J. Rothschild, Wolfensohn & Co. Volcker also chaired the National Commission on the Public Service, which focused on the changes needed to restore vitality and credibility to public service. 

The Maxwell School gratefully acknowledges Mr. Menschel's generous support. Funding for policy-relevant research and professional training for future public officials are key components to advancing effective governance at the national, state and local levels.

Leonard Burman, the Paul Volcker Chair in Behavioral Economics, hosts the Paul Volcker Lecture and Symposium. Burman, in collaboration with colleagues in Maxwell's Center for Policy Research, where he is a senior research associate, organizes an annual conference or lecture on a public policy topic drawing on the insights and perspectives of behavioral economics. In addition, graduate students, in public administration and economics, organize a companion research symposium featuring scholars working at the cutting edge of research in behavioral economics and public policy. 

Past Volcker Lectures

2018 - March 26. Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics, Stanford University.

View a video of the 2018 lecture

2017 - April 13. Christine Jolls, Gordon Bradford Tweedy Professor of Law and Organization, Yale University.

2016 - September 28. George Akerlof, Daniel E. Koshland, Sr. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics, UC Berkeley; 2001 recipient, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.

View a video of the 2016 lecture

2015 - The Inaugural Paul Volcker Lecture, March 19. Robert Shiller, Sterling Professor of Economics, Yale University; 2013 recipient, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.

View a video of the 2015 lecture

For more information on the Paul Volcker Lecture, contact Katrina Fiacchi at: