This summer Notre Dame Economics Professor Joseph Kaboski received the prestigious Frisch Medal, which is awarded to the author of the best paper of the previous five years in Econometrica, a leading journal of economics. In an email interview, The Rover asked Kaboski to describe the interaction between his Catholic faith and his celebrated scholarship.
The paper for which Kaboski and coauthor Robert Townsend received the award is entitled “A Structural Evaluation of a Large-Scale Quasi-Experimental Microfinance Initiative”. It evaluated the Thai Million Baht Village Fund Program, one of the largest government microfinance programs in the world. Kaboski said, “[we] showed how the impacts [of microfinance] vary across people: some increase consumption, some invest, others don’t use the program at all, and others simply get into more debt. So the impacts are more nuanced than expected, and microfinance didn’t seem to be as cost-effective as hoped.”
When asked about the interaction of faith and reason in a Catholic university, Kaboski explained, “I think the first influence of Catholicism on scholarship, no matter what field, is a dedication to truth, and a firm belief in objective truth, so it places value on research.” On an individual level he explained that he integrates his faith into his scholarship by pursuing research that benefits people and by generally trying to serve the university and its students to the best of his ability. Jokingly he added, “Having faith in a calling helps you through the tenure process.”
Regarding the University of Notre Dame specifically, Kaboski said, “The interaction between faith and reason is really central to Notre Dame. In fact, it’s really the only reason for its existence. There are plenty of other elite universities that believe in reason, but the blending with faith is what makes Notre Dame unique.” As Notre Dame faces attempts to achieve its goals of being truly Catholic, an elite research institution and a liberal arts educator of students, Kaboski indicated faculty hiring as a particularly challenging area.
He explained, “There are only so many people who are (1) top researchers and teachers, (2) active Catholic intellectuals, (3) have a desire to live in South Bend, and (4) whose spouses can also find work. The question is often along which dimension are you going to give.”
Notre Dame’s Catholic identity played an important role in Kaboski’s own decision to come to the university to teach and research. He added that the economics department has also been very successful in attracting other people who embrace the university’s mission. “We were starting from next to nothing, and we attracted top scholars like Bill Evans and Tim Fuerst, who were interested in doing what might have been impossible twenty years ago: building a top economics department that is authentically Catholic” he explained.
Another challenge to Notre Dame as a Catholic university that Kaboski highlighted is the failure of the Catholic Church in general to educate young people in the essentials of the Catholic faith.
“I am always sad to see that despite many years of Catholic schooling or CCD, many students lack basic knowledge about things such as the sacraments, knowledge of the Bible, Catholic morality, Church history, etc. It starts way before students get to Notre Dame. People either don’t get the education or, worse, get miseducated, and it makes it difficult for students to participate in the Catholic intellectual life on campus.”
He continued, “Moreover, when this one essential aspect of your intellectual background lags so far behind the rest of your mind, it makes it difficult to really live out a life of faith.”
Kaboski teaches a course on Economics and Catholic Social Thought, about which he says, “The hope is that people don’t compartmentalize what they learn, but that their faith is reflected in all parts of life, including an economics major.” He also organizes conferences with the bishops, economists and other scholars through the Lumen Christi Institute.
“The idea,” he concluded, “is for academia – even secular academia – and the Church to always be in conversation.”
Joe Mackel is a senior biology major who survived the campus gas leak on Monday. To
celebrate life together email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.