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April 26, 2016

Booth Professor Wins University Laing Prize

Last Wednesday at the Quadrangle Club, the University of Chicago Press awarded its annual Gordon J. Laing Prize to Booth School professor Amir Sufi.

Sufi, the Bruce Lindsey Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Booth School of Business, won the award for his book House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again. He co-authored the book in 2014 with Atif Mian, a professor of economics at Princeton.

“This book is particularly satisfying to read because every time you have a discussion of the financial crisis, it’s always: this is the problem, this is the problem, this is the problem,” University President Robert Zimmer said during his opening remarks. “And the nice thing about this book is that it actually looks at the complex web of underlying interactions of governments, events, and individuals who were in a type of unwilling collaborative dance to create what was a serious problem.”

The University Press presents the Laing award each year to honor a notable faculty member and commemorate the late Gordon J. Laing, editor of the Press during the ’20s and ’30s. This year, the Board of University Publications evaluated over 400 publications, eventually nominating 38 for the prize. After two months of deliberation spearheaded by Chair Eric Slauter, an associate professor of English, the board selected Sufi’s book on the 2007 economic crisis.

“We wrote this book because we felt that even though we’d completed all the academic research, the narrative about the Great Recession—while obviously very important to Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns—lacked the perspective of households and the role that just normal people played in it,” Sufi said.

Sufi and Mian based their narrative on the last seven years of research on the recession, much of which was conducted at Booth. Heavily data-driven, this work takes a macro- and microeconomic look at systemic issues to arrive at actionable conclusions, lending equal weight to famed economists from Milton Friedman to Paul Krugman—polar opposite ends of the economic spectrum.

“It is this scholarly environment and the colleagues here that really push you to think very seriously about the conclusion you’re coming to, which really helped us to come to the conclusion that we did—the backbone of the book,” Sufi said.

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