Triumph of the City: A Public Lecture by Ed Glaeser

Ed Glaeser at CERGE-EI

“Cities are magical,” declared Ed Glaeser to open his public lecture at CERGE-EI. “They are an excellent source of research and policy debate.” Professor Glaeser is an economist at Harvard and the author of the book Triumph of the City. His passion for cities, however, is not limited to their fertile ground for research.  Glaeser argues that “cities magnify humanity’s strengths.” They spur innovation by facilitating human interaction, they attract talent and sharpen it through competition, they encourage entrepreneurship, and they promote social and economic mobility.

More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and Ed Glaeser sees this as a wonderful achievement. He also thinks that cities should be denser and cheaper; the more people, the better. The data agrees with him, as high earners happen to live together both in the USA and Europe. He backs up his argument with statistical evidence that was strong enough to refute Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote “the future of India is in its villages not in its cities”.

Glaeser took us on a tour of urban economics, and how urban density contributed to the birth of publishing in New York, skyscrapers in Chicago, the auto industry in Detroit and, more recently, the information technology hub of Silicon Valley.  He also reminded us of the time when it really looked like cities were dying. “It really seemed possible that all of America’s older cities would revert back to some planet of apes like wilderness,” he recollects, referring to New York on the brink of bankruptcy in the 1970s.

 All of that decline was because it looked like cities had lost their original economic reason for being: Transportation. In the early days of the United States, it cost as much to ship 30 miles over land as to ship across the Atlantic. So cities emerged as nodes on a transportation system. As transportation became cheap, industry fled. It started to look like cities were doomed. The other real problem, was urban sprawl. “Each new highway that cut into an urban core reduced the city’s population by about 18% relative to the rest of the area.” The federal government pursued a strategy that ignored the real heart of a city: the people. As Professor Glaesrer reminded us, it’s not just Infrastructure that’s needed. A picture of the Detroit “people mover” flyover gliding over empty streets supports his argument.  The variable that explains which cities came back, according to Glaeser, is human capital: the schools and average education level. It’s the well-educated people of Boston, Minneapolis and New York who have continuously found new sources of prosperity when old ones ran out.

Prof. Glaeser also took time to mention what he called the “demons of density.”  One such evil is urban poverty in the developing world. Cities attract the poor with the promise of a better life than what the countryside can offer. But while the city provides opportunities for the urban poor, it also has to grapple with the pitfalls of poverty, including public health and crime. There are other downsides to cities. Some of these problems need more than just more engineering. “If you build cars, people will drive. You can’t engineer out of that, you need to be like Singapore, which charges people for congestion.” He continuously reminded the audience that the role of the state is not to tell people what to do, but to provide the right incentives and taxes so that people pay the full social cost of their actions.

Professor Glaeser’s CERGE-EI lecture left the audience hungry for more. Through his fascinating speech, he revealed how the relatively young field of urban economics is a rich area for further exploration. As urban spaces become a more important part of the human experience, the science of understanding and improving them will become increasingly essential. Professor Glaeser’s brief lecture served as a window into this fascinating world of research and inspired the audience to learn more. On behalf of the CERGE-EI community, we would like to thank him for his visit!


Petar Stankov’s 2014 Graduation Gala Speech

About 9 years ago, my world was my cubicle. I was relatively happy with my job at a think-tank in Sofia and I had stable career prospects. But one day I got an email from a friend saying Hey, have a look at this school, you might be the right applicant. I applied, and soon my cubicle was these awesome walls and ceilings in this historical building. But I quickly realized CERGE-EI had much more than a classic cubicle to offer. Between these walls there was substance, there was challenge, there was ambition which matched my personal drive for progress.

CERGE-EI gave me the most powerful combination of tools for personal progress: a critical mind and unmatched determination. That particular frame of mind transformed the dreamer in me into an achiever. CERGE-EI has that special talent: it transforms dreams into goals, and goals — into achievements.

My greatest achievement which I owe to CERGE-EI is that now I can spread its Western education style, spirit and work ethics back in my home country. Now that I am employed full-time in academia, I can influence the people in my department through my research and CERGE-EI has taught me how to do it. My teachers here taught me in the art of asking the right questions and gave me the methods to answer them. My colleagues and friends from here are still the smartest people I have ever met. I learned universes from them. I went to conferences I would not have dreamt of going to; I talked to economists about whom I have only read in textbooks before. Last but not least, the school administration was perhaps the most helpful staff I have ever worked with.

But perhaps even more importantly, I can spread the Western education spirit through my students. CERGE-EI is a well-known place among them. I know that in some of those students lives the same dream that brought me to Prague. They know that they can have a world-class education not so far away from home, and they can get it in a city which immediately embraces you and makes you feel at home. They know that they can shape their future and the future of their country by going West, by coming to CERGE-EI. But part of CERGE-EI’s mission also means coming back and giving your best. That is why some of my students also share my credo which CERGE-EI shaped in me: Go West, Come Back, Kick Ass. Because that’s what we do best.

I thank you all for being a significant part of my life and for being here tonight. And now I wish you one kick-ass evening.


Jan Novotny’s ‘Alumni Speech’ at the 2014 Graduation Gala

Dear fresh graduates, students, professors, honourable guests and alumni, welcome at the second Graduation Gala at our beautiful Schebek Palace.

This is a second year, we all meet here and we can proudly say we have all together established an amazing tradition at CERGE-EI. This event gives us an opportunity to celebrate fresh graduates, for some of you to get a new push to keep the pace towards your future graduation, and for some of us time to recall our memories, when we were graduating. We can just envy that the Graduation Gala was not already back in our times, when we were receiving our diplomas.

With graduation, part of the life ends but a completely new and exciting part just starts. What I have seen around me, many of us started to explore new countries, competing on new markets, exploring completely unimaginable career paths full of uncertainty. After the graduation, we have gone all over the world. Colleagues I was meeting in hallways ended up in the United States, various countries in Europe and even in Asia or Africa. In my case, I got to Cass Business School in London. London is a terribly big city.

Continue reading Jan Novotny’s ‘Alumni Speech’ at the 2014 Graduation Gala


New Economic Talent Competition: Winner Announced!

If the topic is young economic talent, you’ve got CERGE-EI’s attention. There is nothing that this institution cares about more than encouraging and nurturing the brilliant young minds who will be the next generation of academics, business leaders, and policy makers. Many of these talented young students constitute our impressive and diverse student body. They come here smart, they leave here much smarter, and they continue on after their studies to help change the world.

But while we know that there are budding economists all over the world, it’s not always so easy to find them. CERGE-EI’s New Economic Talent Competition, launched for the first time this winter, intends to help make locating them a little bit easier. NET invited undergraduate students world-wide to submit for competition their independent research papers on an economic subject. CERGE-EI was delighted to receive submissions from nearly 25 countries, and the quality of the research was impressive to say the least.

Submissions were evaluated and ranked by a committee of CERGE-EI visiting scholars. After much deliberation, three finalists were invited to Prague to present their final paper. Then on Saturday 31st May all the finalists were invited to attend the CERGE-EI Graduation Gala where the results were announced by Prof. Jan Švejnar, the ‘Founding Father’ of CERGE-EI.

And the winner is… Justin Grider, with his paper ‘Wheelchairs and Income: An Impact Evaluation of Wheelchair Allocation in Ethiopia.‘ Justin received $1,000 USD, generously donated by Nadace CERGE-EI foundation, and he dined alongside VIP guests at the Gala. He will also receive an invitation to the Global Development Network Conference in 2015 to present his paper (his travel costs and accommodation will be covered) and a VIP ticket to the next Distinguished Speaker Series at CERGE-EI.

We would like to wish our congratulations to all three finalists for their participation and impressive submissions. These young men and women are representatives of the new economic talent of their generation. We look forward to the submissions for the 2nd NET competition in spring 2015!

Learn more about the competition and read the winning paper abstract here.


2nd Annual CERGE-EI Graduation Gala: A Night We Won’t Soon Forget!

On Saturday, May 31st, the CERGE-EI community reunited to celebrate yet another successful year providing top notch economic research and education. The spectacular Gala was filled with speeches, gourmet food, live music and dancing. Alumni, students, faculty, board members, corporate partners, and supporters celebrated throughout the evening together. And of course all the guests were amazed by the exquisite neo-renaissance palatial rooms of CERGE-EI’s Schebek Palace.

All who attended will agree: the 2nd Annual Graduation Gala at CERGE-EI was an unbridled success. We welcomed over 150 guests—students, alumni, faculty and staff, the members of our governing bodies, as well as our donors and other business guests.

The Gala started with a champagne reception accompanied by a live jazz quartet. Dressed in their best suits and dresses, most guests were eager to have their ‘celebrity photo’ on the red carpet at the top of CERGE-EI’s regal marble stairwell. An audience gathered to hear welcome speeches by Susan Walton (CERGE-EI Foundation Board member) and Jan Švejnar (a ‘Founding Father’ of CERGE-EI and Chairman of the ESC). Professor Švejnar proudly announced the winner of the New Economic Talent Competition, a new CERGE-EI competition which invited undergraduate students world-wide to submit their research papers.

Before dinner, guests also heard a keynote speech by Magdalena Souček, the Country Managing Partner of EY Czech Republic. Ms. Souček spoke about the importance of quality higher education in Czech Republic and the wider region, and expressed her gratitude to CERGE-EI for educating the next generation of scholars and leaders.

After a wonderful dinner, the Gala continued with remarks by Randall Filer (Professor of Economics at Hunter College-CUNY and president of the CERGE-EI Foundation USA), a touching speech by PhD graduate Petar Stankov, and remarks from Jan Novotny (CERGE-EI alumnus and member of the CERGE-EI Foundation US Board of Directors). CERGE-EI Student Alexandra Pohylkov then delighted the audience with a wonderful singing performance.

Guests enjoyed some elegant dancing to the live band before CERGE-EI students began announcing the ‘student superlatives’ awards, which included ‘The Beautiful Mind Award’, ‘The Mother Teresa Award’, ‘The Ponzi Award’, and ‘The Nightmare on Politickych Veznu Award’.

The mood shifted from elegance to revelry as the hours passed. With the live band bringing up the energy, everyone was eager to show off their dance moves under the chandeliers and frescoes in the main ballroom. The band eventually had to go home, but an energetic DJ jumped in without missing a beat and kept the music and dancing going until the late hours of the night.

Now for the second year in a row, the Gala is quickly becoming CERGE-EI tradition. Once a year, the students, faculty, staff, alumni and affiliates who make CERGE-EI such a successful place deserve a night like this. With each passing year, the Gala offers the best opportunity for the CERGE-EI community to reunite and celebrate. Looking forward to next year!

See the gala photos here!

We would like to once again express our sincere gratitude to the supporters of the event: EY (Ernst & Young), Martin Kálovec (BCG), Benson Oak, Jack Stack (Česká spořitelna), OGResearch, CERGE-EI Foundation and Nadace members, the Stapleton-Springer Winery, and the Herold Březnice Brewery.