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Harvard Economist Susan Athey Wins a Top Award

First woman to receive the Clark Medal is honored for work across several areas of study, including government auctions. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Susan Athey, an economics professor at Harvard University, has won the John Bates Clark Medal. The American Economics Association awards the Clark Medal to the most promising economists. And it may be even harder to win than a Nobel Prize in economics. The Clark Medal is given every two years. And the winner has to be under the age of forty.

Susan Athey is thirty-six years old and the first woman to win the Clark Medal in its sixty year history. No woman has yet won the Nobel economics prize which has been awarded since nineteen sixty-nine.

Professor Athey came to Harvard in Massachusetts last year. Before that she was at Stanford University in California for five years. And before that she taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for six years.

Past winners received the Clark Medal for a single area of research. But Susan Athey was honored for her work across several areas of economics. Her work has dealt with both applied theory and empirical studies. In other words, it has dealt both with the complex methods that help economists do their jobs and with economic problems in the real world.

One of the real-world situations that she has studied is government auctions. Auctions can be used to sell something like the right to cut down trees on public forest lands. Or they can be used to buy something that a government agency needs, like computers. In both cases, bidders compete against one another to win the auction.

For five years, Susan Athey worked with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests in Canada to design a system for timber auctions. That system has helped the Canadians collect over one billion dollars. It has also helped ease a trade dispute. The United States accused Canada of providing unfair support to its timber industry.

Professor Athey has also studied how bidders in an auction can suppress competition. One pays the others to offer losing bids. This, of course, defeats the purpose of an auction. Susan Athey showed that requiring businesses to make secret bids could increase competition.

The John Bates Clark Medal has been given every two years since nineteen forty-seven, except for nineteen fifty-three. That year no prize was awarded. Among thirty winners of the medal, eleven have won the Nobel prize in economics.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.