April 14, 2015

Economist Jan Svejnar, the James T. Shotwell Professor of Global Political Economy and director of the Center on Global Economic Governance at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), will receive the 2015 IZA Prize in Labor Economics, the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) announced on April 14.

The prize, first awarded in 2002 to Columbia University’s Jacob Mincer, has been called one of the most distinguished international awards in economics. It recognizes Svejnar’s major contributions to labor, development, and comparative economics in general and to the economics of transition in particular.

In the words of the IZA Prize Committee, Svejnar’s research on the transition from socialist to market economies “has broadened our understanding of this process in a fundamental way.”

“Jan Svejnar is among those top economists who always have a policy perspective in mind. His insights have provided policymakers with the tools to master Europe’s greatest post-war challenge—the successful transition of the formerly socialist economies,” said IZA Director Klaus F. Zimmermann.

“This honor underscores the significance of Professor Svejnar‘s research in labor and development economics, as well as his ongoing scholarship regarding the economic transformation of formerly centrally planned economies,” said Dean Merit E. Janow of SIPA.

Fellow economists roundly praised the recognition of Svejnar. See comments below.

Svejnar’s theoretical and empirical research has dealt with bargaining among workers, employers, and governments, determinants of productivity, wages, employment, and unemployment, and—since the 1990s—the determinants of performance of the transition and emerging market economies. His recent research has focused on areas such as privatization, corporate and national governance, role of human capital, institutional change, effects of foreign investment on innovation by local firms, and the relationship between wealth distribution and economic growth.

It was soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain that Svejnar developed a policy agenda for a successful transition by former Soviet and Soviet-influenced states. In an article published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 1991, he emphasized the need for micro adjustments to achieve macro stabilization in the transforming socialist economies.

Svejnar’s proposals emphasized the importance of a suitable legal framework to guide economic activity, the need for firms to become more efficient through strong incentives for managers and workers of state enterprises, as well as specific social and labor market reforms to enhance labor mobility. His reform proposals, especially those concerning the legal framework and corporate governance, contributed substantially to the performance of the transition economies.

 “I am greatly honored to be awarded the 2015 IZA Prize for my work on issues in labor, development, and the transition from socialist to market economies,” said Svejnar. “The IZA Prize is the most prestigious science award in the field of labor economics, and I feel energized to carry out more research on unemployment, inequality, productivity, and growth.”

In recent years, Svejnar’s courses at SIPA have included Leadership and Innovative Policy Making and Topics in Policy-oriented Microeconomics.

Outside of academia, Svejnar has served as an advisor to governments, international institutions, nonprofit organizations and private-sector companies. Born in what was then Czechoslovakia and educated at Cornell and Princeton Universities, Svejnar served as economic advisor to the late Czech President Vaclav Havel and was one of two presidential candidates in the Czech Republic in 2008.

The award ceremony will be held during the annual IZA/World Bank Conference on Employment and Development in Bonn, Germany, June 4-6, 2015.

Praise for the selection of Jan Svejnar

“Jan Svejnar’s work has deepened our understanding of the pitfalls and opportunities facing emerging market economies. His analysis has contributed to economists’ theory and knowledge, but also has had direct effects on the policy choices made in various countries. The IZA Prize is a well-earned honor.”

— Rebecca Blank, chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; former acting U.S. secretary of commerce; IZA Prize Committee member, 2015

“I want to congratulate my colleague Jan Svejnar for receiving the prestigious IZA Prize in Labor Economics. His contributions to our understanding of governance, globalization, and government policy—among many other topics—very much deserve this honor.”

— Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University; winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics; former IZA Prize Committee member

“Jan Svejnar's pioneering work on the transition of economies from centrally planned to market oriented has had enormous influence on both public policy and academic scholarship. Born in Czechoslovakia, Jan is himself an example of successful transition and an ideal selection for the prestigious IZA Prize.”

— Orley Ashenfelter, Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics at Princeton University; 2003 IZA Prize recipient

“Jan Svejnar is a wonderful choice for the 2015 IZA Prize. From his research on worker participation in firm management to the economics of transitioning communist countries, Jan Svejnar has had a profound influence on economics. Indeed, Svejnar helped to establish the entire field of transition economics. In addition to his significant academic contributions, Professor Svejnar has also helped to found and guide CERGE-EI to become an outstanding graduate education and research center, advised the Czech government on economic policy and privatization procedures, and nearly became president of the Czech Republic.”

— Alan Krueger, Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University; former chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors; 2006 IZA Prize recipient

Read the IZA press release