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Poterba to lead largest U.S. economic research group

James Poterba
James Poterba

James Poterba, Mitsui Professor of Economics and head of the MIT economics department, has been appointed president and chief executive officer of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting greater understanding of how the economy works. The group is best known for its role in providing official dates for business cycles in the United States and declaring the start and end dates of U.S. recessions.

The appointment, announced Feb. 20 by NBER chair Elizabeth Bailey, takes effect July 1, 2008. Poterba will succeed Martin Feldstein of Harvard University, who is retiring after leading the NBER for 30 years.

"We couldn't be more pleased to have Jim as the next leader of the NBER. We believe he will do an outstanding job of bringing his vision and talents to the Bureau and will build on the enormous legacy left by Marty Feldstein," said Bailey.

"I am incredibly honored to serve as the next president of the NBER. I look forward to working with the program directors and research affiliates to maintain and enhance the NBER's position as a global leader in producing relevant economic research," Poterba said.

Poterba is an expert on tax policy and financial economics. His recent work examines the effect of taxation on the financial behavior of households, particularly their saving and portfolio decisions. He has been especially interested in the analysis of tax-deferred retirement saving programs such as 401(k) plans, and in the role of annuities in financing retirement consumption.

In addition to his research, teaching and administrative roles at MIT, Poterba is the current director of the Public Economics Research Program at NBER and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society. He has served as a director of the American Finance Association, and was a member of the executive committee of the American Economic Association. In 2005, he was a member of the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.

Poterba received a BA in economics from Harvard University and a PhD in economics from Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He has been an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, a Batterymarch Fellow, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

The NBER, which was founded in 1920, has nearly 1,000 research affiliates who are research economists at U.S. universities. Their work focuses on developing new statistical measurements, estimating quantitative models of economic behavior, assessing the effects of public policies on the U.S. economy and projecting the effects of alternative policy proposals. The NBER is based in Cambridge, Mass.

NBER presidential search committee members included leading scholars and researchers from academia and industry.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 27, 2008 (download PDF).

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