Alberto Alesina, the Omnivorous Social Scientist

Alberto Alesina, the Omnivorous Social Scientist


"Never underestimate my ability to translate complicated things that I don't understand into things simple that I understand "

This is one of Alberto's "historical" phrases, stated to a group of his students just recently. 

Alberto had the unique ability to write on a wide variety of topics in Economic Policy and Economics from points of view that:

a) before his contribution had not been grasped or had been ignored
b) after his contribution have acquired fundamental importance.

In fact Alberto founded the field of Economic Policy as we understand it today, that is, the
study of the intersection between economics, politics, and institutions. For example, his theoretical and empirical works have shown the importance of going beyond the intertemporal budget constraint to understand fiscal policy, analyzing topics such as the effect of the division within governments, the importance of having technically competent governments, the size and the number of nations, and the different approaches to the "welfare state".

But Alberto was an omnivorous social scientist, with an almost unique diversity of interests
in the profession, which however managed to never be banal: his recent works range
from the racial composition of those sentenced to death, to the role of and attitudes towards the family in influencing society, in the formation of social values, the determinants
of poverty, attitudes towards immigration.

Despite this exceptional variety of academic interests, Alberto also played an important role
in the economic policy debate. Worldwide and in Europe, with his fundamental contributions on the effects of austerity. In Italy, with his books and articles in Corriere della Sera written with Francesco Giavazzi, key works of reference for the discussion of economic policy and for the innate ability to transform complicated things that few understand into simple things that anyone can understood very well.

His ability to interact with students and colleagues from all backgrounds, both on a human and a professional level, was simply extraordinary. At Harvard, Alberto mentored a throng of students now scattered in universities around the world, and many at Bocconi. He also collaborated with many of them on academic work. At our University, Alberto thrilled and encouraged generations of students, which he later followed in their specialization studies in the United States.

All this combined with an extraordinary humanity, which no words will succeed in
transmitting, and which will always remain a private and precious treasure for those who (like the writers) benefited from it.

Alberto was Nathaniel Rhodes Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University, Visiting
professor at Bocconi, Fellow of the Econometric Society and member of the American Academy of Art and Science, and a Alumnus of Bocconi, where he graduated in Economics and Social Sciences in 1981.

by Carlo Favero and Roberto Perotti, Deutsche Bank Chair in Asset Pricing and Quantitative Finance And professor of Economics, Bocconi University
Translated by Richard Greenslade

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