Profile of Kevin Murphy

by F.

The University of Chicago magazine has an entertaining profile of economist Kevin Murphy:

[I]f you ask anyone who knows him about Kevin Murphy, PhD’86, the George J. Stigler distinguished service professor in economics and the Graduate School of Business, they all respond the same way.

“He’s brilliant, very brilliant, and I don’t use that term often,” says colleague Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in economics. “Kevin is unusually brilliant. He’s technically very good, catches on quickly, has a good imagination. He’s innovative and he has a good nose for ideas. He is at the top ranks in economics. Among those his age, nobody is better.”

“Kevin is far and away the smartest guy in the field,” says Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, the Alvin Baum professor in economics and the College. “Often, the better you get to know these guys, the less ingenious they seem. It’s just the opposite with Kevin. Not only is he widely regarded as the smartest economist on earth, but he can also fix your refrigerator.”

“He’s the world’s biggest bundle of human capital,” says Topel. “He’s the smartest guy, the clearest thinker, and the nicest guy I ever met, in the most unlikely package.”

That package is strikingly unprofessorial. “I’m not a fancy guy,” says Murphy, 48, “not your typical academic.” An athlete in his high- school days—he was thinner then—he has, over the years, taken on the look of a former football player, maybe a linebacker, gone slightly to seed. He drives a pickup truck, buys his clothes at Sam’s Club, wears a baseball cap at all hours—a vestige of his years coaching Little League—both outdoors and in. He teaches, speaks at conferences, and has testified before Congress wearing cap, jeans, and sneakers. He has been photographed wearing a tie, but not recently, and there are rumors that the tie was added later, using Photoshop.