In this occasional series, we feature members of our faculty, answering questions about their research and teaching.
April 2016: Greg Leo
Greg Leo joined the Vanderbilt faculty as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2015. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California-Santa Barbara, and his B.S. from Georgia Institute of Technology. Professor Leo's research interests include microeconomic theory, game theory, and experimental economics. Since coming to Vanderbilt, he has taught undergraduate Intermediate Microeconomic Theory (Econ 3010) and Mechanism Design (Econ 9110), a Ph.D. course.
1. What attracted you to economics?
I had a very good high-school economics teacher. In his class, and simultaneously in my high-school physics class, "doing math" resulted in numbers that actually meant something interesting to me. I really enjoyed thinking about the world in such a structured way. I still do.
2. Who is your most important mentor, and why?
Marco Castillo, who I have worked with since I was an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, has taught me almost everything I know about how to design and run economics experiments. Analogously, Ted Bergstrom, my advisor at UCSB, helped me learn to use theory to study my questions-of-interest, along with teaching me many other lessons in thinking about and writing about economics.
3. What projects are you working on right now?
Here's something I've been thinking about lately:
When you lower the effort it takes to complain about things, you change the incentives complainers face, and you get more complaints. This seems like a positive, as lowering the cost of complaining about problems means that people will complain about more of the things they think need fixing. Unfortunately, this also means that people will complain about things that aren't worth fixing, at least not before more serious issues. Naturally, you have to change the policy about when particular complaints are addressed, perhaps ignoring problems until they receive some threshold of complaints. This changes the incentives of complainers again, but in a different direction. Now the outcome of the policy change in lowering the cost of complaining, while simultaneously raising the complaint threshold, is not so clear.
My most recent paper, "Complainers' Dilemma," addresses this topic by studying the rather subtle decision problem faced by complainers under such policies and ultimately showing that, even after accounting for the need to raise complaint thresholds, lowering the cost of complaining is still an efficient policy change.
4. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I really enjoy the process of looking for the clearest possible way to teach a concept. Sometimes this takes thinking about material ten different ways and making analogies with similar concepts before finding a suitable explanation. Because of this, teaching is one of the best ways to learn material. The rewarding feeling of explaining things well to students is icing-on-the-cake.
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