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Dr Raj Chetty – August 28th, 2012

Dr Raj Chetty with his wife Mrs Sundari and Dr Montek Singh

Raj Chetty is a Professor in the Economics Department at Harvard University, Co-Director of the Public Economics group at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Editor of the Journal of Public Economics. His research on topics such as taxation, unemployment, and education has been widely cited in media outlets and Congressional testimony. Chetty has been named one of the top young economists in the world by the New York Times and the Economist magazine. Chetty received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2003 at the age of 23 and is one of the youngest tenured professors in the university’s history.

1. You are the youngest professor at the age of 29 in the Harvard
University’s history. What made it possible?

I was lucky to have a family where I was exposed to a lot of things about the world and motivated to seek knowledge since a young age. I started programming computers when I was 4 when my father brought an Atari computer to India. We travelled all over the world when I was young so I was quickly exposed to many cultures and ways of doing things. As I grew older, I was lucky to attend great schools and learn from excellent teachers and professors. All those great opportunities coupled with hard work made it possible for me to get to Harvard and succeed here, but I want to emphasize that I attribute most of my success to the generosity of others rather than my own efforts.

2. Can you tell us about your research on the kindergarten
students with Dr John Friedman, please?

We have written a series of papers tracking students from elementary school to adulthood. We find that students who were lucky to be assigned to high quality teachers — as measured by their value-added on standardized tests — are more likely to attend college, attend higher- ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers. On average, replacing a teacher in the bottom 5% of value-added with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000. We conclude that good elementary school teachers can create substantial economic value and that investments in improving the quality of elementary education are likely to have large returns.

3. Can you tell us of your experiences with Harvard University or how would you rate the
students and their prospective to that of other Universities

Harvard is an incredible environment in which to study, learn, and do research that has a big impact on the world. There are a handful of great research universities in the world, and there is no doubt that Harvard is one of them. It is an honor and a privilege to be at a university where so many critical discoveries that have influenced humanity have been made, ranging from the discovery of DNA to the basic theories of economics that shape free market economies.

4. How much does Harvard economists influence US Economic policy?

Harvard economists have had a profound influence on economic policy in the U.S. For example, as the President’s chief economic adviser, my colleague Larry Summers together with other Harvard economists played a key role in designing the policies that rescued the U.S. from the financial crisis. Harvard and other leading economists’ research continues to influence policy debates throughout the year.

5. Where do you see yourself in the above context?

I would like to continue to contribute to the policy debate by writing papers that bring scientific evidence to bear on key policy questions.

6. In your general view, can you just explain or give some idea for
the general public as what and how should USA prioritize to stable
its Economy?

This is a difficult question; it is hard to point to any one factor and I think the recovery will simply take time, as has been the case with most financial crises in the past. What the U.S. can do is safeguard itself against such a severe recession in the future by investing it more careful monitoring and regulation of banks and, more importantly, invest heavily in education and the other basic infrastructure that will make the economy grow in the long run.

7. Can you give your idea as what should India do to stabilize its
current economic position?

Likewise, I think the best think India can do is take a long-term view and invest especially heavily in elementary education, as poverty and a lack of skilled labor continues to be a serious problem in rural India.

8. Can you tell us on your awards and accolades and which do you think
touches your heart the most and for what?

I think what matters most to me is seeing the impact that our work is having on the world and hearing from the people whose lives have been touched by it — e.g. teachers who are happy to see their work recognized or individuals fighting for better government policies who can cite our evidence.

9. Whom do you attribute your success to?

Primarily my parents, family, and the teachers and professors I had.

10. What is your advice to the youngsters who want to achieve in life or
enter the renowned Harvard University?

To set your mind to a specific goal and work very hard at it, and mainly to be confident in your own abilities even if others question your ability to reach the top. If someone questions whether I can achieve a goal, I try to draw motivation from that rather than being discouraged. And to learn to draw upon the help of the many people around us who are more than willing to help someone trying to achieve an important goal.

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