Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

My Annual Review: 2019 A Year of Recognition and Transition

By David Zilberman

TelAviv beach

This last year was mostly a good year. Professionally, I gained a triple crown: I was awarded the Wolf prize for agriculture, became a member of the US National Academy of Sciences (USNAS), and became president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA). My grandchildren are growing and Leorah and I are enjoying this stage of our lives.

The Wolf Prize is an international prize given by the Israeli president, so getting this recognition in Israel was a great experience for our family and friends who joined us. I’m looking forward to formally joining the USNAS this April. The AAEA presidency required much effort. The leadership of the association had to deal with the decision to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) from Washington. We hired a lobbyist and collaborated with other groups to try and change the decision, but to no avail. Now, we hope to maintain support to build a strong ERS in Kansas City and to maintain and expand support to economic research on agricultural and natural resources. I believe that we will be more successful. In an era when we realize that there is growing evidence of climate change and more concern about sustainable development, we need agencies that will provide objective information and knowledge.

family at Wolf

In addition to addressing the ERS Challenge, we engaged in other activities aimed to strengthen the AAEA. As we became concerned that income from our journals may decline in the future, we decided to encourage contributions and donations to support the activities of the association and to celebrate members through appreciation clubs. AAEA leadership also established mechanisms to strengthen our community. We continue the Mentoring Program, which matches senior and younger members. We also held a mentoring workshop where young faculty members gain insight into publishing, managing their careers, and some of the significant research challenges of agricultural and resource economics.

with colleagues

This was a year of transition. I noticed that none of the faculty members that were active when I joined are still on the faculty. Unfortunately, Peter Berck passed away this year, and we are establishing an appreciation club in his memory. Alain de Janvry and Betty Sadoulet retired two years ago, even though they continue to be very active as professors of the graduate school. And recently, I learned that Gordon Rausser decided to become a professor of the graduate school as well. I find the department is changing, and I am encouraged by the quality of the publications and creativity of some of the younger faculty, their dedication in pursuit of new data sources, and the capacity to analyze them masterfully, but I am concerned that we are losing some of our uniqueness. I got my award for multidisciplinary work incorporating biophysical and institutional considerations to economic decision-making frameworks for the management of water, pest control, biotechnology, biofuel, and technology choice. This analysis was on producers’, consumers’ choices as well as government choices and required multidisciplinary collaboration and learning of the basic principles developed by other scientific and technical fields. I worry that, while people preach multidisciplinary, young faculty members at least in Berkeley, are more looking to excel as economists while putting less weight on understanding the technological and institutional processes we need to understand and affect. Some of it is because of the growing emphasis on publication in top-5 journals in economics, which has been recently criticized as the curse of the top five.I believe that there is greater homogeneity in the economic profession, and we may lose diversity and the ability to connect with other disciplines and influences.

While many of my generation have retired, I continue to stay on faculty. I enjoy my new work on supply chains, changes in the energy sector (with the EBI), and the economics of the transforming bio-economy (with IGI). This year we will celebrate 20 years of the BEAHRS ELP


, and we have gone through a review for the master of development practice (MDP). The reviews were positive, but raised concerns about where our permanent home will be. Will the College of Natural Resources use us as a cornerstone for establishing world-class professional master degree programs, or will we join the School of Public Policy? In any case, I will not retire before I know and can ensure a sustainable future for the MDP.

This year I also started realizing my age. I fell trying to jump over a small fence while moving furniture, and for about two weeks, I looked like the loser of a boxing match against Muhammed Ali. Fortunately, I recovered, and I am enjoying our new and improved house. I really enjoyed the ability to meet our children and grandchildren, who are spread all over in New York, Fayetteville, and Seattle. Modern miracles like airplanes and Skype bring us together even when we are living apart. While our immediate family is thriving, this year we lost some dear relatives and friends. Lori Carrol, the mother of our daughter-in-law Leigh, passed away. Leorah and I loved Lori and we were saddened and shocked by her passing. My cousin, Rachel Saad, passed at the age of 85 a few weeks after I met her celebrating the Wolf Prize. She was a cornerstone of our family in Israel and it proved that being an old person doesn’t prevent you from being an active and dynamic contributor. I’m looking forward to the next year and wishing all of you, our nations and the global community a great 2020.