Randy Bellows, ’88 (XP-57), has been attending Economic Outlook for a decade. Established in 1954 as Business Forecast, Chicago Booth’s annual event provides a forum for professors to evaluate emerging trends and share key insights about where our economy is headed. Having retired after a long career as an ophthalmologist, Bellows is an avid investor, and he considers the event one of his most important resources for information—which was his motivation to attend both the Chicago and New York events last January.
“Booth faculty are a step ahead of the ordinary media,” said Bellows. “These people are leaders whom I respect, and when I have the privilege of sitting in front of them and hearing what they have to say, it’s valuable enough that I sit there, take notes, and look at those notes all year long.”
At the two sessions, with over 1,300 total attendees, leading Booth economists discussed critical issues facing the global economy. They shared their insights into the outlook for Wall Street and Main Street 10 years after the financial crisis, and discussed whether we might be headed toward another. The events were covered by a number of media outlets, including CNBC, Financial Advisor, and the Chicago Tribune.
During the event in New York, John Authers, senior investment commentator for the Financial Times, moderated a discussion between Randall S. Kroszner, Norman R. Bobins Professor of Economics; and Erik Hurst, V. Duane Rath Professor of Economics and John E. Jeuck Faculty Fellow. Both economists said they anticipate strong growth this year, and neither believe there to be a threat of inflation or recession on the immediate horizon.
“While top-level US economic and employment data are very strong, and inflation remains under control, the underlying employment data for young people is very troubling. That was the most enlightening takeaway for me from Economic Outlook,” said Peter McNally, ’98, a consultant, after attending the New York event.
The following week, in Chicago, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, CNBC’s chief international correspondent, moderated the conversation. The Booth experts who convened—Kroszner; Raghuram G. Rajan, Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance; and Austan D. Goolsbee, Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics and the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers—touched on a wide range of topics, including high levels of debt (particularly in China), cryptocurrencies, and credit bubbles.
As vice president at Citi, Sabrina Hou, ’12, came to the New York session because of the rigorous inquiry that permeates Booth events such as Economic Outlook. “The professors at Booth aren’t just focused on the theory,” said Hou. “They do research that’s related to the real world.” Another New York attendee, Sabena Arora, ’01, founder and president of Acadia Lodging Brokers and Advisors, agrees. She often attends industry conferences, and she gets frustrated when experts provide examples or numbers but fail to back them up with any deep analysis. “Chicago Booth gives you the substance behind the data,” said Arora.
Hou enjoyed watching Kroszner and Hurst discuss the recent tax cut—Kroszner was particularly optimistic, while Hurst cautioned that the benefits of the tax cut might not spread to the middle class or improve productivity growth. The level of discussion back and forth reminded Hou that she was indeed at a Booth event. “The two speakers on stage didn’t necessarily share the same views,” said Hou. The willingness of Booth faculty to engage and argue their sometimes-clashing opinions helps alumni and students to form a more holistic view of current events. “That’s the beauty of Chicago Booth professors,” Hou said. At the Chicago event, Kroszner drew on the example of Walmart that he and Hurst had debated days earlier in New York to nuance his argument about tax cuts.
At both events, questions from the audience of business leaders and alumni encouraged professors to cover an array of subjects. “Economic Outlook helps me to renew my knowledge base and stay current—connecting networking with the theory, and research with the reality,” said Hou.
Bellows agreed. “I’m getting a rigor that I can’t get on my own and a perspective that is broader than what I can do working from my office,” said Bellows, who uses what he learns at Economic Outlook each year to help guide his investment decisions. “It’s a chance to be part of the living community of Booth, and I always welcome the opportunity to link up with classmates from my MBA experience.”
—By Leah Rachel von Essen