James Heckman on the Drivers of Human Success
“What we have come to learn from modern genetics, which has huge social implications, is that it’s neither nature nor nurture. It’s both combined.” James Heckman
James J. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at The University of Chicago and the recipient of many awards. In 2000, he received the Nobel Prize in Economics.
His recent research deals with such issues as evaluation of social programs, the economics of the labor market, and alternative models of the distribution of income
Dan Richards interviewed Professor Heckman on January 5 at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Atlanta, GA. This interview is one of a series that Dan conducted at that conference.
Let me start by asking you about your work leading up to your Nobel Prize in 2000.
My work was basically focused on trying to evaluate and understand social programs. That’s a basic question in social policy that accrues across social science more broadly, but it’s also in economics.
If the government tries a program, such as a jobs training program, or a program to advance the health of disadvantaged children, or tries to aid in various ways, such as through a tax policy, what’s the best way to understand how much that policy has contributed or subtracted from total welfare? I’ve developed a number of methods and studies to try to understand exactly whether or not various social programs and interventions have been helpful or harmful.
So you’ve tried to conduct more rigorous and quantitative measurement and analysis.
We ask basic questions: If we do something now today, what would the world look like if had we not done it? Or, turning it around, if suppose we hadn’t done something, how much better or worse would the world have been?