Professor Alex Anas is an applied microeconomist and urban economist and is the Chair of the Department of Economics. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and focuses on building microeconomic models that can be used to analyze the impacts of changes on urban structures. You can find him teaching Urban Economics (ECO 421, 521, and 787) and Public Economics (ECO 763) as well as Microeconomic Theory and Topics in Microeconomics.
Why did you choose economics? Why did you choose your subfield?
AA: I discovered the way economists think while in undergraduate school, an engineering major at Carnegie-Mellon University. Prior to discovering economics, I had an interest in how the urban environment should be designed. But I quickly realized that design of the urban environment cannot be done without an understanding of human behavior. The attraction of microeconomics was that it was the only science that provided a quantitatively testable theory of human behavior. That discovery of economics eventually led me to urban economics as my subfield.
What research are you working on right now?
AA: There are a number of works in progress. One of these is a computable general equilibrium model of the Paris region and how the region’s productivity would change when a new massive public transport project is completed by 2030. The research shows that the project would only marginally redistribute activity within the region, but could attract significantly more population and jobs to the region. We also show that the project is socially beneficial but cannot be fully financed without borrowing or without increasing existing taxes, even after fully pricing the road congestion externality to raise revenue.
What was your favorite paper to write, and why?
AA: In one of my first papers I showed that the rent on land does not have to decrease from the center of the city if housing durability is modeled. The result was confirmed later in a variety of dynamic models of the city and found empirical support in the work of others.
What is your favorite class to teach, and why?
AA: Micro theory basics. Because one can do so much with so little.
What was your favorite class as an undergrad?
AA: It was a tie between macroeconomics because I had so much trouble understanding it, and urban history because I love to read history.
What is your top piece of advice for your students?
AA: Learn well the theory and the empirical techniques, but keep an open mind. You do not know what problems you may have to solve 10 or 20 years from now. Be prepared to invent new approaches to solve new problems in a fast-changing world.