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Google chief economist to kick off series

For the 20th year, UCSD is gearing up for its annual Economics Roundtable series, which kicks off on Feb. 19 with the chief economist from Google.

Hal Varian will talk about “Predicting the Present with Google Trends” in the first of the four-part 2010 series.

Mary Walshok, dean of Extended Studies and Public Programs and a UCSD vice chancellor, has been involved with the series since its beginning when Gerry Warren, then editor of the San Diego Union, challenged her to get the word out about what the university was contributing to the region.

“The university has a responsibility to the town in which it lives to address big ideas within the community that shape our region,” she said.

The program is a partnership between the Economics Department and Extended Studies, and brings top people from all around the country to the campus for a dialogue focusing on federal tax and trade policies. Attendees include business leaders, from bankers and real estate developers to technology industry representatives, she noted.

The roundtable started small with about 20 attending the early events, and now is limited to 125 so it remains a conversation.

“Part of the character is that it is more participatory,” Walshok added, explaining that Varian will open with a short presentation and then chat with those attending.

Look for him to engage the audience. A news release about the gathering quotes him as saying: “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything. I am not sure if we want to waterboard our data, but at least we do want to understand it.”

Varian, who holds his bachelor’s degree from MIT and master’s in mathematics and Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley, where he also teaches, has taught at MIT, Stanford, Oxford and Michigan. He is a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the Econometric Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He’s a prime example, said Walshok, of the caliber of speakers UCSD has attracted for the roundtable, which often turns to friends of faculty members as speakers rather than speakers’ bureaus or agencies.

A steering committee of nine — including representatives from UCSD and Cal Western School of Law, as well as those in the financial, real estate and legal worlds — brainstorms about “what the hot issues are, who are the smart people and who do we know,” she added. Last year, one of those people was Larry Summers, one of President Obama’s top advisers and director of the National Economic Council.

Speakers are paid travel expenses and a per diem rate, not a big honorarium, Walshok said. Tickets to the event are $150 for the four programs or $50 per session.

On April 23, SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter will be featured, speaking about “Plans and Prospects for Financial Reform” on April 23.

Then, on July 20, professor Takeo Hoshi, who holds the Pacific Economic Cooperation Chair in International Relations and is acting dean of UCSD’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, will focus on “Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis.”

The speaker for the event in the fall has not been announced.

If you go

  • What: Google chief economist Hal Varian
  • When: 7:30 a.m. Feb. 18
  • Where: UCSD Faculty Club
  • Cost: $50, includes continental breakfast and parking
  • Learn more: www.economics.ucsd.edu/roundtable