World-renowned economist John List joins you to talk about inflation, interest rates, global financial trends and the pillars of business success.
He can also speak about how early childhood education is transforming children’s careers in disadvantaged communities, and how organizations can take good ideas, make them great, and scale them to create measurable change in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and society at large.
At a free CivicCon event on August 14 in Pensacola, List will address all of the above.
List is the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and holds the appointment of Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Australian National University.
He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Recognized among the world’s most influential economists by RePEc, a coalition of hundreds of volunteers in 102 countries dedicated to disseminating research in economics and related sciences; and served as Senior Economist for the administration of former President George W. Bush in 2002 and 2003.
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List’s research focuses on how economic theories apply in the real world, and for decades his studies have touched on everything from the factors influencing charitable giving to the gender pay gap in the gig economy to the driving forces in the Sports trading card market.
At CivicCon, List will share some of the big lessons from his research and how cities and communities can use them to thrive and thrive.
“The first half will have some theories about regional growth, about agglomeration – what’s the value of attracting a million dollar investment to attract more (businesses) – and I’ll have some facts like that,” List said of what’s coming Event. “But then I’ll move more to (social issues), you know, ‘We have an education gap, we need affordable housing. John, can you help us think about developing programs in these spaces that are scalable?’ and I think that’s where my book really applies, to these kinds of questions.”
List’s new bestseller The Voltage Effect is about “the science of scaling: why some ideas fail while others change the world, and how to give each idea the best chance of success.” The book notes that success and failure isn’t about luck, and there’s a rhyme and reason why some ideas fail and others make it big.\
List is a great place to delve into the subject because, unlike many economists, his specialty is the application of economic theory to everyday life. One of his notable projects was helping to establish a preschool in a disadvantaged Chicago suburb as part of a four-year study of how parental involvement in early childhood education affects a child’s future success. The study is still ongoing because these children are still growing, but it appears to be showing positive results.
He also worked with Chrysler to investigate whether using financial incentives to get employees to engage in healthy activities would ultimately save the company money on medical expenses and sick leave. After initially promising, this program failed to move the needle.
Experiments like these helped List identify five “vital signs” that indicate whether an idea is scalable, and the four commercial behaviors that are critical for an idea to succeed at scale.
List said at CivicCon: “I’m going to have some political directives, and I think we should have our local politicians’ feet to the fire and make sure they scale up ideas that actually have a chance to work.” And I think as a society, we don’t do that enough.”
One piece of advice he gives to communities is that they should invest heavily in their business owners and their children. List emphasized the need to create a community “culture of creativity,” noting that people tend to create and invest where they grow up.
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In terms of setting community priorities, he recommended: “In the short term, I want to do entrepreneurship and create an entrepreneurial culture. In the long run, I want to double down on early childhood education and make sure our kids all get the best because far too much opportunity and potential is wasted in our youth. These are kids who could be the next innovators of cell phones or (virtual reality) or (artificial intelligence), and communities around the world just are. don’t give their children a chance.”
List said another important finding from his work is the big difference in how private companies invest their time and resources compared to governments. His field research has resulted in collaborations with several different schools, nonprofits and governments, as well as private companies including Lyft, Uber, United Airlines, Virgin Airlines, Humana, Sears, Kmart, Facebook, Google, General Motors, Tinder, Citadel, Walmart and many others.
He said companies think about cost and efficiency in everything they do – because they go bankrupt if they don’t.
“I think too many communities just do (a program) with no evidence of the program’s effectiveness or who it’s going to help,” he said. “Very rarely do they adequately pilot it to see if it will work. … Governments need to behave like private companies and they need to take the seriousness of data and the seriousness of data-driven decisions to heart. I think governments don’t because they’re monopolists who don’t face competition.”
List said he recommends that an expiry date be built into any new government policy or program, meaning it expires automatically if officials don’t take a step to continue it. He also recommended that there should be guidelines mandating continuous evaluation of new initiatives.
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He noted that when a government launches a program, “it doesn’t test whether it will work for a very, very long time or until they get called out. And when they realize it’s not working, it’s kind of too late because you have all these interests, because it works for some people — some people make money and some people do their thing, but it doesn’t work for society. So they should bring it back, but it’s really hard. In a company, it’s easy because we’re going to go bankrupt if we don’t stop it. But that’s not the case in a government. … It’s easier to stick with the status quo.”
List said we could do better, and the tension effect is a formula for how.
“In the past, scaling was viewed as an art. I think scaling is science, and if you use scientific principles to scale your ideas, our local communities will be better off,” he said.
List’s presentation will provide more detail on the key concepts of The Voltage Effect and also provide context on how small cities should focus their efforts in the current economy. The event will take place on Sunday, August 14 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at The REX Theater, 18 N. Palafox St. in Pensacola.
The event is free and open to everyone. Registration is available by searching “CivicCon” on eventbrite.com. Those who register have the option to submit a question for List.
The presentation will also be available via livestream on the Pensacola News Journal Facebook page and on pnj.com.
CivicCon is a partnership of News Journal and Studer Community Institute to empower communities to become better places to live, grow, work and invest through smart planning and civic conversations.
Visit pnj.com/civiccon for more information.