Daron Acemoğlu: An economist headed for a Nobel

Daron Acemoğlu: An economist headed for a Nobel

Istanbul-born economist Professor Daron Acemoğlu was honored with the “2017 Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science” from Koç University on Nov. 22.

The medal was given to the MIT professor for his “distinguished contributions to research on macroeconomic growth and development, labor economics and political economy.”

Acemoğlu is known by many as an “economist headed for a Nobel.” He is among the most respected economists in the world and has been researching the relationship between economic growth and social and political factors since back in high school.

British economist Angus Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics for his studies on corruption and inequality, says Acemoğlu “knows mathematics well enough to change history.”

For a bright future

The “Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science” is given to scientists under the age of 50, who were raised in Turkey and who have contributed to the advance of knowledge either at home or abroad.

In his speech at the award ceremony in Istanbul, Koç Holding Chair Ömer Koç described Acemoğlu as “an economist who has made important contributions to the creation of a more comfortable and enlightened world.”

In his acceptance speech, Acemoğlu said he has focused his work on two main areas throughout his career.

“The first one is the development of institutional structures and their impact on welfare and growth. The second one is the impact of technology on the economy. The issue of technology has been particularly under the spotlight over the last 25 years. I try to understand the times when automatization increases productivity and when it increases prices and its impact on the labor force,” he said.

“In light of all this, I also research how institutions, education systems and other factors must change in order to make use of technology in a more efficient way,” he added.

Acemoğlu also spoke about his new book, co-authored with political scientist James Robinson. The two had previously also co-authored “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” a powerful and insightful book published to great acclaim in 2012.

The starting point of their latest book, he said, is a focus on the impact of corruption and inequality on countries’ development. It also focuses on governments’ role in combatting or exacerbating violence, oppression, fear and the refugee crisis.

The dangers of moving away from the West

I had the opportunity to speak to Acemoğlu during his previous visits to Turkey, and I was also able to get back in touch with him before the ceremony at the museum.

Speaking about the current global situation, Acemoğlu said the administration of Donald Trump had precipitated one of the “biggest crises in the U.S.’s history.” More generally, authoritarian regimes are gaining strength across the world, which is currently going through a “dark period.” 

“The rapid globalization and technological development that we have seen over the last 20 years has not brought about benefits to everyone,” he said.

On Turkey, he said the country was “not growing in a healthy way,” suggesting that “it needs instead to increase productivity rapidly because of its young and dynamic population.”

Acemoğlu also touched on Ankara’s recent problems with the West, which he described as “dangerous.”

“Turkey needs to update itself technologically in order to develop its potential. The West has the advanced technology as well as the research and development [R&D] activities. Turkish R&D can nourish itself with knowhow from the West. It should not simply copy developments, but it should take and develop what it needs from the West in line with its own requirements. A continuation of commerce with the West is therefore necessary,” he said.

Gila Benmayor, hdn, opinion