Annual Review, 2010

2010 was a year mixed of good and bad. This year Leorah and I became empty nesters for real(several times in the past the kids have left, but boomeranged back). Shie and Leigh moved to Seattle where Shie is running the computer system of the high school and they are both teaching. Beth and Eyal returned from their Peace Corps service in Guyana and they are in Boston where Beth is attending Boston College Law School. Aytan and Davina are in New York where Aytan has become a recruiter of “quants” (mathematical analysts in financial institutions like Goldman Sachs) and Davina is pursuing a career in media production. Leorah is truly enjoying her retirement – she takes classes in creative writing, continues her art and crafts, and maintains her wonderful blog (http://leorahle.wordpress.com/). She also volunteers at Berkeley High School and Longfellow Middle School, spends a lot of time with her mom  and keeps in touch with old and new friends.

This year we got terrible news about my sister Shlomit, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. She has undergone an operation as well as radiation and chemotherapy. I have visited her twice this year and I admire how our family and their friends have provided a wonderful network of support. My sister Dina has really been a trooper and she juggles being a mother of triplets, a wife, a family driver, a devout sister, and professionally a consultant. We all wish Shlomit the best in the coming year and I really treasure her fighting spirit.

The highlight of this year was a wonderful trip to Norway. Our friends Iulie and Tom, and Hans Peter and Bitten were wonderful hosts and we had a great cruise to the fjords. I always thought that cruises are for old people, but I guess we’ve joined the club. We continue to go to Warriors games, they are entertaining underachievers. They teach us that losing can be fun and we treasure their occasional wins.

While the Warriors are losing, my real team, the Berkeley B-AREs, has had a great year. Our ARE department was voted as the best in the agricultural and resource economic field by the National Research Council’s study, which is an academic tournament that happens once every decade or so. Professionally, it was a good year. Our summer program, Environmental Leadership Program (Beahrs ELP), celebrated its 10th anniversary and was a big success. Furthermore, we learned that we received support from MacArthur to start the Master of Development Practice, which will be an MBA in sustainability. I hope that the UC bureaucracy will approve the program this year and we will have our first cohort in fall 2012. I hope that we will generate a new and very much needed type of leaders for development and the environment. I helped with other organizational efforts. This year our Bioeconomy Consortium (ICABR) had a great meeting in Ravello, Italy and next June we will have one in Rome in cooperation with the European Environmental Economic Association. We had a successful third Berkeley Bioeconomy Conference in June, and we plan to have the next one on the 25th and 26th of March of this coming year.

I continue to be excited about our biofuel research and the EBI and the development of a great agenda on the tradeoff between food and fuel, the political economy of energy and the role of OPEC, biofuel and indirect land use changes and I expect the program to grow and evolve. I really enjoy continuing research on payment for ecosystem services and helping to apply it in the real world. We made great strides documenting the value of biotechnology and I hope it will help to increase adoption and use of these technologies. We have had an exciting program on Avian Influenza and I look forward to present the state of knowledge in a book that I am editing. I am sometimes overwhelmed with editing – our Springer series, the Annual Review of Resource Economics, ARE Update, etc, but deep inside I guess I like it.

As you can see I have a busy professional life, but I contribute relatively little to it. I couldn’t have done all of this without Amor who retired this year. But, I am glad that Angie has stepped in beautifully. My graduate students, post docs, and collaborators have been essential to my success; I am really fortunate to have all of these colleagues that became friends and make me look good. I hope that 2011 will be a better year – full of health, happiness, and friendship.

Travel to Norway and Ravello

David Buschena, A Colleague and Student

David Edward Buschena (1964-2010)

Recently I lost a dear friend, collaborator, and one of our most beloved alumni as Dave Buschena past away after a valiant struggle with cancer. I first heard about Dave when his professor at University of Minnesota and our alumni, Claudia Parliament, called me to recommend him for our graduate program. She described Dave as “super bright, hard working, and a really nice guy that really cares about agriculture and the world.” This was an apt description. Dave took my first year class and even though he lacked in mathematical training, he caught on really fast and was one of the best students. I was teaching risk at the time and he would always approach me after class to ask me questions about risk management and what the theory implies for trading and farming. Many times I didn’t understand his questions and in most cases I couldn’t answer what he asked. It was clear to me that I was teaching risk, but he was managing risk. And indeed he was a practitioner of risk management, and he was a wonderful advisor to people who were interested in agricultural risk management.

Dave has had incredible intellectual curiosity and he was interested in many topics, including industrial organization of agriculture, consumer preferences for food and what affects it, and international trade and international relationships. His dissertation was on the economics of risk management. Dave realized the limitations of traditional expected utility theory that was being used to manage risk and was fascinated by new behavioral theories that modified it. He got the insight that people make different choices when alternatives are similar or dissimilar, they use more rigorous rules between choices that are different, while using almost random choices when things are similar. His dissertation was set to test this theory. While he came with this idea, it started appearing in the literature so his main contribution was to show that the similarity approach really worked empirically. In order to do it, he became an expert on experimental design working with Barbara Mellers in the psychology department to develop an “industrial strength” experiment to test his hypothesis, and indeed the data proved him right, and he went on to publish several influential papers. His work on risk was so good that one of the papers that we submitted to Journal of Risk and Uncertainty was accepted “as is,” the only time that it ever happened to me. Dave was one of the key people to introduce modern behavioral and psychological risk analysis to agricultural economics and at the same time was crucial in developing practical and simple rules for risk management. `

Dave was a wonderful friend. He loved nature, sports, and people. I really enjoyed many trips with him, and working with him was always fun. I enjoyed learning from him about life in the West and got a new perspective on hunting and adventure. I took my sons to Montana to visit him and his wife, Maire, and they really enjoyed it. Dave was the best guide for Yellowstone that you could ask for. The kids really appreciated it when he introduced them to guns and target practice. For years they bugged me to take them back to Dave and emphasized that the time and location would be modified to have less Yellowstone and more guns.

Dave’s expertise with guns came in handy. One of the strange visitors in our department was always complaining that Irma Adelman stole his big idea by developing the CGE models that made her famous. (He was wrong.) One day this fellow came to the office with a wooden box and to all of us it looked like an exotic lunch box. Dave realized that it was a box for a weapon. We notified the police, and indeed the guy had a loaded gun.

Dave and Maire visited us in Berkeley just a couple of months back and Dave looked good. Leorah and I had a glimmer of hope that this brave man would overcome this terrible affliction, but it didn’t happen. I feel fortunate to have known him and to have collaborated with him. He made the world a better place and had a huge and lasting impact on the many people he touched. He made a lasting contribution to agricultural economics, and we will always treasure his memory.