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Daniel McFadden: Saving the World While Staying Grounded

DW spoke to Daniel McFadden, 2000 Nobel Prize winner for economics for his work in micro econometrics. McFadden talks about balancing his research and charity work and his efforts to stay cool in the media spotlight.

McFadden, 63, smiles at his home in Berkeley, Calif., early Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2000, after McFadden and James J. Heckman won the Nobel Prize in economics

Nobel Prize winner Daniel L. McFadden

Deutsche Welle: What are the main challenges facing mankind at the moment?

Daniel McFadden: I think the primary challenge is governance at a global level because globalization and economics make it particularly important to be able to manage global markets and regulate them, so that the products are safe and contact of businesses is sound. That requires a need for regulation and legal recourse, legal systems for settling disputes at a global level. I would say establishing that is the biggest challenge.

What is your solution for that?

If I only knew... One could hope that international organizations like the UN could be revitalized. That will take the will of major powers that are currently very protective of their own rights. I think there is a need for the citizens of particular countries, like the US, to be more aware that we all are on one globe, and that we need to work together.

Can the world still be saved?

Oh, I think the world will manage. Whether the human race will be part of it, of course, is a more interesting question for us. For us to be saved, we have got to learn to be a little less unruly in our dealings with each other and to look for ways of living which are a little easier on the planet.

How do you personally try to improve the world?

I'm a great believer in trying to do good works. I have various charities that I devote my surplus income to. I think in the end a great deal of the benefit that we can do is individual and specific. I'm not trying to save the world -- I'm just trying to help a few people out.

In which other academic discipline would you like to do some research beside economics?

I've always had a deep interest in child psychology of choice behavior. I continue to follow the developments in that field with great interest. These days there are tremendous innovations in biology, some of which are actually quite relevant to economics. I suppose if I were starting over I would do biology as part of my training.

And which subject did you dislike in school?

Actually I can't remember any subjects that I didn't like. I know some teachers I didn't like, especially in mathematics where the teachers didn't like the way I did math.

Where and in which situation were you when you heard about your Nobel Prize?

I was in Berkeley. I got the call at 2:30 in the morning -- I was sound asleep. My wife jumped up and down and said that this is very exciting and I was trying to figure out what was going on.

And what happened then?

It was quite a whirlwind. Within an hour I had an AP reporter in my bedroom and within two hours I had TV trucks lining the streets and neighbors coming out and asking who had been murdered.

How did you personally benefit from the Nobel Prize?

The prize offers you some responsibilities because you become a public spokesman for economics. It offers you a great field for making a fool of yourself by speaking on topics which you should keep quiet about. But it's of course a very nice thing to have, but I would say primarily it makes you a public citizen.

Are there other negative implications?

It's very hard to balance the public aspects of my life after this prize with my personal research, so it's always a struggle trying to keep most of my week available for private work.

What did you do with the prize money?

I put it in a charitable foundation and that's being used for some education and art projects and museum support.