Telephone interview, October 2021
“I’m standing here in my pyjamas – my wife’s just taken a picture of me”
Telephone interview with David Card following the announcement of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2021 on 11 October 2021. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Prize Outreach.
David Card had just got his pyjamas on and was heading for bed, after a very late night arrival from a trip, when the call from Stockholm came. This interview was recorded just moments later and he talks about his work on immigration, the setting of the minimum wage, and the relationship between those studies and public policy.
Adam Smith: May I speak with David Card please?
David Card: Speaking, yeah.
AS: Hello, my name is Adam Smith calling from the website of the Nobel Prize.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah. I heard that that was… I heard that Adam Smith was going to call me. That’s kind of ironic.
AS: Yep, on this… on this strange morning it must make you feel even more disorientated.
DC: Yeah, anyway, pleased to meet you.
AS: Lovely to meet you.
DC: Sorry. [Laughing]
AS: Not at all. Congratulations on the news.
DC: Oh, thank you.
AS: So how did the news reach you?
DC: Somebody called my… my home phone number and we actually have a kind of weekend house somewhere, and we’re actually there right now and, but the call forwarded to my wife’s cell phone.
AS: And were you both asleep when it came?
DC: No I just got, actually I just woke… I actually literally had flown back from a memorial for my grandmother who passed away recently.
AS: I’m sorry.
DC: I just, just arrived about 20 minutes ago from the airport.
AS: Gosh, so you must be exhausted already. And now the prospect of a sleepless night ahead I suppose as people bombard you with phone calls like this.
DC: Well, yeah, I guess… Yeah, I don’t really know the drill – I was kind of hoping I might go to sleep! [Laughs]
AS: Well I think you should! I think that’s absolutely right. I’m delighted to catch you just before you turn in and turn off your phone maybe. But it sounds like it’s really caught you very much by surprise?
DC: Well, yeah, I must admit, you know, I don’t think I would have been a very high probability.
AS: That’s a… That’s a modest thing to say. You use real world events to find the evidence for causal relationships. It must be fascinating just waiting for events to take a turn that allows you to interrogate the data.
DC: Well, I do sometimes tell graduate students that crazy political regimes have a lot of disadvantages, but one advantage is that they do create very good conditions for trying to do a causal analysis – that’s true.
AS: As I suppose does all this, all the awful disruption caused by the pandemic, presumably there’s tonnes of potential in that for analysis.
DC: Yeah, this pandemic is very difficult because there’s so many things that are disrupted at once, and I think… yeah, I bet you that 20, 30 years from now we’ll still be trying to sort that out, what exactly happened. You know, if you look at the increase in unemployment or the drop in GNP, it’s you know like one of the worst, or the worst recession since the great depression, or maybe worse than the great depression. And certainly in it’s… the speed of onset it’s worse. But then almost miraculous recovery after, so it’s going to be something that I think people are going to struggle with interpreting for many, many decades.
AS: And just to highlight one bit of data from your work, I mean, people are talking a great deal about immigration these days, and very worried about the effects of it on jobs but your work shows that there doesn’t seem to be an effect of immigration on the labour market, which is fascinating.
DC: Well the… actually that’s not quite true. The one paper that I think probably you’re referring to is a paper I wrote about the Mariel boatlift and it didn’t show much of an effect but it… you know, a cautionary tale is that there could have been small effects because them the ability to precisely measure the effects when it only affects one city is somewhat limited. Another… other work I did… I did some find, you know, very small effects of immigration on native wages. But people don’t remember that, but that’s clearly written in the paper.
AS: So I suppose I’ve been guilty of just what must be the big problem of your work, which is that the implications of these data sets are enormous for public policy and people tend to want to make a decision – go one way or the other. And it must be, I suppose, frustrating to have people simplify things that way.
DC: Well, you know, I’ll tell you… for instance on the minimum wage I remember Al Kreuger and I did some research jointly and independently of each other in separate papers, and then we wrote a book in the early 1990s, and after that the minimum wage was frozen in place for a very long time. And so we always assumed that our work had completely stopped all progress for the minimum wage! So I think, similarly, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that the kind of research that I’ve done has had much impact on, on immigration because at the end of the day on the immigration issue… I don’t think… I think people talk about these impacts on native workers but I think that’s really what the big concern is. The big concern is about changing the composition of the country and making it more non-white or more different religion, more, different language, different racial composition. I wrote a paper on that too, but no one remembers that one!
AS: What was your conclusion?
DC:That basically, well it was based on data from the European Social Survey, and the very first European Social Survey they did in I think like 23 countries and I was working with Christian Dustmann at UCL and Ian Preston at UCL and we submitted a proposal for questions and it was accepted, and so the very first ESS – European Social Survey – had this battery of questions. And we, we tried to get at what’s the main reason that people are against immigration. Is it because of economics or because of the sort of concerns about cultural issues? And we concluded that it was mostly the cultural issues.
AS: They’re very deep rooted, and it will take a lot of changing.
DC: Pardon me? My wife is here making… I’m standing here in my pyjamas – my wife’s just taken a picture of me, kind of making fun of me.
AS: Well, you know what, she should… rather than making fun of you, what I’d like her to do is to send me that picture!
DC: [Laughs] Okay! This guy wants the picture.
AS: I most definitely do. You know we have this… we have a tradition now of not only interviewing you but trying to get you to send us a picture capturing this moment, which we post on our channels for Nobelprize.org.
DC: Oh okay.
AS: People have been doing it all last week. You know, that would just, that would just be a dream to have that. Thank you, people will adore it and…
DC: Okay. [Laughs] Sure! I’m speaking on the phone in my… yeah okay. I think it should be okay.
AS: I’m sure you look fantastic. Anyway, it’s a happy moment, it’s worth remembering, right? Yeah.
DC: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
AS: Well, it’s been a huge pleasure speaking to you, thank you very much indeed.
DC: Yeah, thank you. Your name really is Adam Smith?
AS: I’m afraid it really is, yes. It’s a peculiarity, and anyway, if it gets a laugh it’s worth having a good name. Thank you very much indeed, and I hope…
DC: Yeah, sure, Adam, and I’ll upload the jpeg of the picture.
AS: Thank you very much, and good luck with getting back to bed.
DC: Okay, yep.
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