Richard Zeckhauser, Distinguished Fellow 2014

Richard Zeckhauser is the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has made wide-ranging contributions in applied game theory, the analysis of economic behavior under uncertainty, health economics, and financial economics.  His research offers a mix of both theoretical and empirical insights.  For example, with William Samuelson, he documented the importance of "status quo bias" in decision making; with Mancur Olson, he investigated the theory of alliances; with a range of collaborators, he has explored the behavior of investors and firms, often providing insights from the field of behavioral economics. 

Zeckhauser pioneered the field of policy analysis.  His current research projects analyze environmental disasters, deception and reputations, trust in Islamic and Western nations, decisions in health care, investing in highly uncertain worlds, and effective relationships between the public and private sectors. He is the author or coauthor of 263 articles. His most recent books include Targeting in Social Programs: Avoiding Bad Bets and Removing Bad Apples (2006), The Patron’s Payoff: Conspicuous Commissions in Renaissance Italy (2008), and Collaborative Governance: Private Roles for Public Goals in Turbulent Times (2011).

In addition to this impressive professional resume in applied economics, it is important to note that Zeckhauser is also a gentle but demanding mentor for the next generation of scholars who adopt both his rigorous approach to the discipline of economics and its equally rigorous application to real world issues – broadly defined as decision-making under uncertainty. He does not suffer fools very well, but he nurtures neophytes as they struggle to make sense of reality and then make contributions for the benefit of us all.  Not all of us have that added skill, but this may be his largest contribution to the profession and to the planet.

Zeckhauser graduated from Harvard College (summa cum laude) and received his Ph.D. there.  He was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He is an elected fellow of the Econometric Society, the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He chairs the Investment Decisions and Behavioral Finance Executive Program at Harvard.