By Stan Paul
Robert Fairlie, longtime professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz and a distinguished senior scholar, has been recruited to serve as the next chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.
Fairlie, a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), is a “prominent and prolific scholar who brings with him a strong portfolio of research interests, a record of policy-relevant and impactful research findings, and an overall commitment to social justice,” said Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris in announcing his appointment.
“Robert Fairlie is one of the most productive and most cited economists in the world,” said Mark A. Peterson, a past chair and current interim chair. “He personifies the ideal public policy faculty member, generating robust evidence on major issues of the day using sophisticated and innovative research and communicating directly with policymakers to inform their decision-making.” Peterson is a professor of public policy, political science and law.
Fairlie’s research has been published in leading economic and policy-related journals. Topics include public policy, entrepreneurship, education, information technology, labor economics, developing countries and immigration, typically with close attention to the implications for racial, ethnic and gender inequality.
He has strong ties to the state, arriving in California at age 2 and growing up in San Jose. He attended Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s in economics. He previously held visiting academic positions at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He also serves on the Faculty Council of the UC Sacramento Center.
Outside California, he has held visiting appointments at Yale and Australian National University. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.
A new book on entrepreneurial job creation and survival — seven years in the making — will soon be published with MIT Press. Fairlie and his co-authors at the U.S. Census Bureau created a new dataset to track the universe of startups in the country — the Comprehensive Startup Panel, or CSP.
“We find that startups, on average, create fewer jobs and have lower survival rates than previously documented,” Fairlie said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also has determined the direction of some of his research, which has had substantial academic and policy influence.
“At the start of the pandemic I realized that, from all the work that I had done in the past, I was in a good position to compile and analyze data on the first impacts of COVID-19 on racial and gender inequality in business ownership, unemployment and work effort,” he said.
As the pandemic progressed, Fairlie said he also became interested in the $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), examining whether PPP funds were distributed proportionately to communities of color and finding delays in equitable distribution.
Fairlie said he recently has been routinely contacted by both the U.S. President’s Office and Vice President’s Office for an update on his research findings amid the pandemic’s continued impact on racial inequality in entrepreneurship.
“My latest research that goes through December 2022 shows promising improvement in the number of Black, Latinx and Asian business owners,” he said. “For all three groups, business owner levels are higher now than where they were at before the pandemic started. In contrast, the number of white business owners is down from pre-pandemic levels.”
Fairlie’s award-winning research and efforts to inform policymakers in California have also garnered recognition. He has provided testimony before the California State Legislature on several occasions. A joint resolution from the State Assembly and State Senate commended his “innumerable achievements and meritorious service to the State of California and beyond.”
On the national stage, Fairlie has testified before the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Department of the Treasury. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Academies and Russell Sage Foundation, as well as numerous government agencies and foundations. Most recently, his work was cited in the 2023 edition of the “Economic Report of the President.”
Fairlie is regularly interviewed by print and online media about economic, education, small business, inequality and policy issues.
Fairlie’s scholarly work will continue when he takes his new post this summer.
“Luskin is an amazing place with so much timely and important research going on. I look forward to contributing to those efforts as part of the team,” he said. “I am also looking forward to working at one of best and most exciting universities in the world.”