Robert Lucas 2011年接受NYU Bowmaker采访,主题是研究偏好、路径和观点,富有启发性。原文12页 [ pdf ],网上流传的中文翻译质量不高。这里辑录几个要点,非常能体现Lucas对经济学研究的一般性看法。小标题、加粗、强调为我所加。


Bowmaker: Do you think it is important to have broad research interests?

Lucas: Economics is a very unified field. We have one body of theory and try to force the whole world into it. It’s not like the biological sciences where specialties are so different that they can’t even talk to one another. I feel I can work on anything in economics, and I think other people feel the same way. The economists whom I admire, like my Chicago heroes, Milton Friedman and Gary Becker, have worked on a vast range of problems. And people from Friedman’s generation, like Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson, have influenced my thinking in a very strong way, as have my own contemporaries, like Tom Sargent and Ed Prescott.

Bowmaker: How would you describe the state of economics today? Are you optimistic about its future?

Lucas: I’m very much optimistic. What happened in 2008 wasn’t a crisis for economics. We’re still the only game in town; the only social science that’s still standing from the days of Weber, Pareto, Durkheim, and Boas. Why? We’re not politicized, we’ve got some discipline, and we know how to do competent statistical analysis. And above all, we have a theoretical framework that continues to surprise us by its applicability to new problems, problems that were once thought to be beyond economics.


Bowmaker: You have a reputation within the economics profession for being a beautiful writer. When I interviewed Tom Sargent for this book, he told me that he didn’t know whether you worked at it or whether it just comes easily. Can you shed some light on this?

Lucas: I have been grammatically pretty close to a flawless writer since the 8th grade. Stylistically, I have had to work at it; trying to avoid falling into clichés and jargon that doesn’t tell you anything that you didn’t already know, and using words that I don’t understand. But as I get older, mathematics is more important to me and I trust it more and more. I want to write down a mathematical model that will take me into new territories. If I cheat on the math and get too sloppy, I am already telling it where I want it to take me. By beating it into compliance, I haven’t learned anything. And so I like keeping the mathematics tight and explicit. Those rules help me to become a better writer and thinker. I trust them more than anything else.


Bowmaker: How important is professional networking to success in research?

Lucas: Research is networking. Getting ideas, developing them, and talking about them. You can’t be an economist by being up in the mountains.

Bowmaker: Do you have any advice for a young scholar who receives a ‘revise and resubmit’ request or an outright rejection?

Lucas: I still recommend that when you get a rejection, you send it off unrevised to another journal. The feedback you get from referee reports is almost always useless. Nancy [Stokey] and I sent a paper to Econometrica and we were told that it had some good examples in it, but the general theory was not needed. And so we sent it to the Journal of Economic Theory, and we received a response saying that the general theory was very valuable, but the little examples were not needed [laughs].

When young people start out, they take each criticism as if it’s coming from God, but it’s more likely to be someone who just doesn’t understand what you’re talking about. You get much better feedback from seminars. If some guy in the audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying or thinks you’re wrong, you can have a real conversation with him and argue back and forth. You learn so much from that process. I really like it.

[关联之前的一个问题,网络让未发表的工作论文在思想交流方面,变得比期刊发表还重要] But now I mostly don’t give a damn if my work ever gets published. The NBER working paper series is a great, unrefereed outlet for people in my field and many others.


Bowmaker: How would you evaluate the Rational Expectations revolution?

Lucas: Totally victorious. It was the best way to look at things. No-one even argues about it. The game theorists discovered the same ideas without the jargon. If you’re writing down a game, each of the players is responding optimally in full knowledge of the strategies adopted by everybody else, and what they’re going to do in the future under various contingencies and so on. You can’t just play with those expectations; they have to be tied in with rationality.


Bowmaker: What are the biggest challenges facing your research fields?

Lucas: Adam Smith and David Ricardo worked out a way of thinking about societies that was pretty well finished by, say, 1820. The progressive element in economics since then only relates to the technical machinery that has been developed. There are people who say that the mathematical and computational methods have gone as far as they can, or even too far. I don’t believe that for a minute. The possibilities for formulating and estimating economic models are just getting better and better. It makes you say, “Geez, I can apply that to my problem.” And then I do it.

Bowmaker: What are the strengths and weaknesses of your own research?

Lucas: I’m not a collector, or even a user, of frontier datasets. But I know how to apply mathematical analysis to problems in economics.

[关联前面的一个回答] Another strand of contributions is in new datasets. When I was writing my thesis, you had to rely on the US Census. But now if you’re thinking about individual decision-making, you’ve got hard data on thousands of people making thousands of different decisions. And you can ask questions that you wouldn’t even dream of asking back in the ’60s. I’m on the periphery in benefiting from those developments, but in terms of developing the science, it’s been important and exciting.

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