Friday, December 21, 2018

Member Blog: David Zilberman

My annual review 2018

Towards the end of every year I post a summary of my personal and professional activities. They are intertwined. I hope this summary is enlightening to people who are interested in the university, its people and their ideas. I discuss first personal aspects, and then move to research and academic activities.
I am 71 and my main question is “to retire or not to retire.” My wife, Leorah, is a retired teacher who is spending her time creating wonderful yarn art, reading and writing, enjoying music, family and friends. For me, retirement may mean more family time, however I will continue doing research and select university activities and may do more consulting. Not retiring means, continuing to teach undergraduates, which I actually enjoy, especially since I started a new course on economics of supply chains. It also implies more intensive involvement in university life. I feel that I have more creative research in me, and I would like to put my two programs — the MDP and the Beahrs ELP — on more sustainable footing before retirement. So, I guess I will continue to contribute to the pension fund, rather than draw from it.
In the next few years our department is being exiled from Giannini Hall to University Hall. We hopefully will return in two years. Giannini has been my second home for 45 years and I discovered a lot of treasures and discarded a lot of junk during the transition. I believe and hope that the transition will make us stronger and we will enjoy being closer to downtown Berkeley.
At my age grandchildren are major sources of pleasure. Ours are scattered throughout the country, two in New York, two in Arkansas and two in Seattle. This year we enjoyed birthdays in New York and Seattle, and all of us met for a wonderful Thanksgiving in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which has great coffee shops, a wonderful yarn store, and is an enjoyable university town.
My main research emphases are economics of supply chain, technology and the bioeconomy. The starting point of my supply chain work is that we live in a world with a high rate of technological change and supply chains are created to implement innovations. My research aims to understand the design of supply chains, what type of contracts emerge, and how new markets are created as part of these supply chains. Working with Tom Reardon and Liang Lu, we tried to understand how this supply chain spread across nations, and to explain the evolution of companies like Amazon, Ali Baba, Wal-Mart and Apple. Three years ago, we started a workshop on innovation and supply chain at Berkeley, and this year we had a wonderful experience, where we learned (and tasted) how chocolate, wine and other foods are produced, distributed and sold. My research on technology aims to understand the implications of the introduction of electronic and autonomous vehicles, and the supply chain of fuel and other logistics associated with these technologies.
In my bioeconomy work we found that many of the concerns about the negative impacts of biofuel on food prices and land use were overblown. Corn ethanol made modest contributions to improve US balance of trade and rural economy, while it made minimal contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sugar cane ethanol on the other hand can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My work on agricultural biotechnology continued to document some of the benefits to developing countries. For example, Bt Eggplant in Bangladesh Increases Yields and Farmers’ Incomes, and Reduces Pesticide Use. My aim in this research is to contribute to the development of sound regulation of biotechnology and biofuel that will address problems of climate change, food security and improve economic wellbeing.
This year I became the president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA). We have about 2,500 members, and about two-thirds participated in our annual meeting in Washington, D.C. In my presidential address, “Agricultural economics as a poster child of applied economics: big data and big issues,” I emphasize that agricultural economics is part of economics but it has its own unique features. It is inspired by the challenges of real-world problems and it has been data oriented for a long time, before it became so cool. It has a multidisciplinary emphasis and has contributed many concepts to economics, including human capital, adoption and diffusion. Working with the AAEA board and staff has been enjoyable. The main challenge we have this year is to respond to the proposed relocation, reorganization and potential cuts in the Economic Research Service of the USDA. We’re making an effort to keep and enhance the contribution of agricultural applied economists to governmental decision making, and I really appreciate the support we received from our members, and other groups.  I’m looking forward to our next year’s annual meeting in Atlanta.
I wish everyone as individuals and our country and the world a good 2019.

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