Chapman University’s Nobel laureate in economic science, Vernon Smith, Ph.D., hit the big 9-0 — yes, his 90th birthday — on January 1, 2016. Since that was a holiday for some other reasons, the University decided to celebrate Vernon’s big day a few days later, on January 4, with an all-day economic science conference and gala dinner.
Dr. Smith, who arrived at Chapman in 2008 as the “advance guard” (in President Daniele Struppa’s words) of a distinguished group of new faculty members who would found Chapman’s influential Economic Science Institute (ESI), received the Nobel Prize in 2002. He is regarded as “the father of experimental economics,” having formulated and formalized the principles and much of the methodology of that now-thriving discipline.
The daytime conference on January 4, bookended by remarks from Dr. Smith’s ESI colleagues Stephen Rassenti, Ph.D. and David Porter, Ph.D., was unique in that all of its presentations were from Dr. Smith’s former students. Joy Buchanon of George Mason University spoke on wage rigidity, Erik Kimbrough of Simon Fraser University covered information and price convergence in competitive markets, Abel Winn of Chapman University examined land assembly without eminent domain, Ryan Oprea of UC Santa Barbara presented on why people violate no-trade theorems, Cary Deck of the University of Arkansas spoke on information aggregration with costly signal acquisition, and Mark van Boening of the University of Mississippi looked at trading dynamics in experimental asset markets.
A gala reception in Fish Interfaith Center followed, with welcoming remarks by President Struppa, and then a lovely dinner — complete with a lighthearted slideshow journey through Vernon Smith’s long and eventful life — from his birth in Wichita, Kansas through his academic career at (among others) Harvard, Caltech, Purdue, Stanford, University of Arizona, George Mason University and finally Chapman, presented by Tom Hazlett, Ph.D., of Clemson University. (Hazlett comically tweaked Dr. Smith’s “inability to hold a job very long” as a slide showed the impressive list of universities at which he’s taught.)
Candace Smith, Dr. Smith’s wife, surprised and delighted the crowd by announcing that The Rasmuson Foundation would be making a $100,000 unrestricted grant to the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics (IFREE) in honor of Dr. Smith’s landmark birthday. IFREE, established by Dr. Smith in 1997, makes grants in support of experimental economics research and education. The gift was given in appreciation for the Rasmuson Foundation’s relationship with Dr. Vernon and Candace Smith, initiated when Dr. Smith served as the first Rasmuson Chair in Economics at the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2003. Dr. Smith’s tenure and ongoing support have helped to realize Rasmuson Foundation co-founder Elmer Rasmuson’s dream to establish UAA as a center of economics excellence.
And then, the band that had been softly playing standards all night, The Heroes, donned cowboy hats and swung into a loud and lively rendition of “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie.” And Vernon Smith, age 90, and his beloved Candace got up and wowed the crowd with a nimble and energetic turn on the dance floor that would have put to shame many a younger pair. “Go, Vernon!” shouted enthusiastic fans, as the seemingly ageless teacher and scholar danced into his tenth decade.