Richard Howitt


Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis. Ph.D. 1975

Having spent my entire professional career at Davis, it’s hard to disentangle my memories of my graduate student years from the subsequent 35 years I spent as a Davis faculty member. I arrived in April 1970 as a new MS student after nine months in Oregon State University and a background as a farm advisor in Western Australia. My original goal was to achieve a Masters degree with an emphasis on farm management and then return rapidly to Australia. However, I soon became intrigued by the interaction of economic theory and analytical methods that characterizes the Davis program. Coming from a background of farm management it was eye opening to me to see how micro theory characterized real farm level decision-making, and how econometrics and optimization could provide the necessary parameters to make this analysis operational and apply policy. The early 1970s were tumultuous times and at least half of my fellow graduate students were from overseas--countries such as Argentina, Chile, Australia, Italy, Turkey, and New Zealand. The prevailing attitude was certainly one of work hard and play hard. Graduate student life was dominated by pushing out the frontiers of applied economics; but society was still in the throes of the 1960-70s counter culture, which occasionally came to the fore, such as the tumultuous time of protest over the invasion of Cambodia.

Late-night work was the norm, however we would often repair the Antique Bizarre or the Club for less formal conversation and beers. My predominant memory is one of a very stimulating atmosphere provided by both my graduate colleagues and the faculty. The theoretical approaches were dominated by neoclassical concepts, but not without some challenges from neo-Marxists. In the area of analytical methods, econometrics was ramping up and optimization modeling was in its heyday. Research topics revolved very strongly around agricultural policy and California crop production, environmental economics was not really invented, and resource economics was dominated by the institutional perspective rather than analytic dynamics as it currently is.

However I soon became intrigued with the combination of dynamics and resource policy and under the joint tutelage of Gordon Rausser for theory and methods, and Charlie Moore for policy and practice, I undertook the dissertation focused on the costs and impacts of pesticide use regulations on California agriculture. This area that was coupled with integrated pest control was considered to be on the fringes of liberal environmental thought. Having finished my PhD, I was preparing to work as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Chicago where Gordon Rausser currently was.  These plans were modified when Ben French buttonholed me in the passage one day and inquired in his kindly, but gruff, manner why I had not applied for the job vacancy in resource economics. I was offered the job, and just managed to finish my dissertation before starting teaching a graduate class in natural resource economics.

Throughout my professional career I have relied on the intellectual and personal contacts that I made this at Davis graduate student and feel forever grateful for the experience.


Select Awards and Accolades

AAEA Award for Quality of Research Discovery

Chair for AAEA Outstanding PhD Dissertation Award (3 times)

Chair for AAEA Outstanding MSc Dissertation Award

AAEA Award for Quality of Research Discovery

Distinguished Scholar, WAEA

Hugo Fischer Award for Environmental Modeling

Fellow of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association


Weblinks and More Information

Richard Howitt ~ University of California, Davis