Thursday, March 10, 2011

Universities and Growth

Mark had a really nice post about one of Edward Glaeser's points. Mark points out that it seems odd that Glaeser overlooked the schools in the Detroit area when he pointed out how important the Univeristy of Washington is to Seattle's success. Curiously, he did not mention Microsoft, which seems to also be an important explanation for Seattle's success. I think the underlying issue here is that simple explanations (location of schools) do not really describe complex phenomenon (relative prosperity) well.

If you look at the the top ranked schools, there are really two major clusters in the United States (one in the Northeast, peaking in Boston and one in California, peaking in San Franscisco). But the causal direction is unclear to me -- did these schools become excellent due to their proximity to vibrant economies or vice versa?

Or are these factors independent, which schools like Princeton might argue for.

What type of instrument or experiment could we use to decide on this?

These questions matter because we care about how to best handle things like economic slumps. It might be that there is no effective policy response (that would be worth knowing). But, at the very least, overly simple explanations should concern us.


  1. Google now has an office in Ann Arbor to capture some of the talent from U of M Physics and Engineering departments (both top-rated). Unless they worked for the University, all those people were leaving the state to find jobs.

  2. I also remember a lot of FBI and other government recruitment at U of M. We had the Ford school of policy and very strong Middle East and Arabic programs (though maybe Dearborn was stronger). President Clinton, in his extemporaneous speech at my commencement, riffed/ripped off the student speaker who'd mainly talked about public service.

  3. Yeah, having a local university is extremely helpful to knowledge based industries. But there are some pretty clear cases of the reverse.

    Washington DC is an interesting example. It has decent universities but not exceptional ones (with the exception of the University of Maryland for the greater metro area) yet it seems to be the epicenter for skilled job growth at the moment.