Robert M. Townsend

Last updated
Robert M. Townsend
Born (1948-04-23) April 23, 1948 (age 72)
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Minnesota
Duke University
Known for costly state verification
revelation principle
turnpike model of money
Awards Frisch Medal, The Econometric Society, for the papers "Risk and Insurance in Village India" (1998) and "A Structural Evaluation of a Large-Scale Quasi-Experimental Microfinance Initiative (2012), and the Jean-Jacques Laffont Prize in Economics, Industrial Economics Institute and the city of Toulouse
Scientific career
Fields Economics
Institutions MIT
University of Chicago
Carnegie Mellon University
Doctoral advisor Neil Wallace

Robert Morris Townsend (born April 23, 1948) is an American economist and professor, the Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [1] Prior to joining MIT, he was the Charles E. Merriam Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago where he remained a research associate (professor) until 2018.



Robert Townsend was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1948. He is the brother of John S. Townsend, a professor of physics at Harvey Mudd College.

Townsend received his B.A. from Duke University in 1970 and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1975. He began teaching at Carnegie Mellon University in 1975, and became a Professor at the University of Chicago in 1985 where he stayed full-time until moving to MIT in 2008. From 1987 to 1989 Townsend was also editor of the Journal of Political Economy.

In addition to his professorships, Townsend is the Principal Investigator and Project Director of the Enterprise Initiative, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and the Principal Investigator of the Consortium on Financial Systems and Poverty, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Additionally, he is a consultant for numerous institutions, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the World Bank, and Banco de España.

Townsend is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of The Econometric Society, as well as an Elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was the recipient of the Jean-Jacques Laffont Prize in 2011, and a Frisch Medal in 1998 for his work on village India and in 2012 for the structural evaluation of a large-scale microfinance program in Thailand; Townsend is the award's only two-time winner.


Townsend began his work as a theorist in general equilibrium models and contract theory/mechanism design, but is known primarily for his work on revelation principle, costly state verification, optimal multi-period contracts, decentralization of economies with private information, models of money with spatially separated agents, and forecasting the forecasts of others. His contributions in econometrics include the study of risk and insurance in developing countries.

Since 1997, Townsend's Thai Project has undertaken large scale village surveys in Thailand to analyze the interaction between household decisions and community behavior at the level of families, villages, regions, and the nation. The Townsend Thai study was the first of its kind and has been the stepping stone for many other applied and theoretical projects in economic development and contract theory. Townsend's work has demonstrated innovation in the combination of theory and data, as well as the ability to work across various sub-fields. A documentary film about his research and field work in Thailand, titled Emerging Thailand: The Spirit of Small Enterprise, was created in 2012. [2]


In 2012, a series of documentary films was created about the people and research behind the Townsend Thai Project. The series consists of one main film and a set of smaller, shorter films that highlight the work of entrepreneurs in rural Thailand.


Related Research Articles

Kenneth Arrow

Kenneth Joseph Arrow was an American economist, mathematician, writer, and political theorist. He was the joint winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with John Hicks in 1972.

Robert Solow

Robert Merton Solow, GCIH, is an American economist whose work on the theory of economic growth culminated in the exogenous growth model named after him. He is currently Emeritus Institute Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has been a professor since 1949. He was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal in 1961, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1987, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. Four of his PhD students, George Akerlof, Joseph Stiglitz, Peter Diamond and William Nordhaus later received Nobel Memorial Prizes in Economic Sciences in their own right.

Lawrence Klein

Lawrence Robert Klein was an American economist. For his work in creating computer models to forecast economic trends in the field of econometrics in the Department of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1980 specifically "for the creation of econometric models and their application to the analysis of economic fluctuations and economic policies." Due to his efforts, such models have become widespread among economists. Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein told the Wall Street Journal that Klein "was the first to create the statistical models that embodied Keynesian economics," tools still used by the Federal Reserve Bank and other central banks.

Constantine Christos "Costas" Azariadis is a macroeconomist born in Athens, Greece. He has worked on numerous topics, such as labor markets, business cycles, and economic growth and development. Azariadis originated and developed implicit contract theory.

Oliver Hart (economist)

Oliver Simon D'Arcy Hart is a British-born American economist, currently the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. Together with Bengt R. Holmström, he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2016.

Tony Atkinson British economist

Sir Anthony Barnes Atkinson was a British economist, senior research fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics.

William A. Barnett American economist

William Arnold Barnett is an American economist, whose current work is in the fields of chaos, bifurcation, and nonlinear dynamics in socioeconomic contexts, econometric modeling of consumption and production, and the study of the aggregation problem and the challenges of measurement in economics.

Bengt Holmström Finnish economist and Nobel laureate (born 1949)

Bengt Robert Holmström is a Finnish economist who is currently Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Together with Oliver Hart, he received the Central Bank of Sweden Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2016.

Dale W. Jorgenson

Dale Weldeau Jorgenson is the Samuel W. Morris University Professor at Harvard University, teaching in the Department of Economics and John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served as Chairman of the Department of Economics from 1994 to 1997.

Guillermo Calvo Argentine-American economist

Guillermo Antonio Calvo is an Argentine-American economist who is Director of Columbia University's mid-career Program in Economic Policy Management in their School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

Franklin Marvin Fisher was an American economist. He taught economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1960 to 2004.

Roy Radner is Leonard N. Stern School Professor of Business at New York University. He is a micro-economic theorist. Previously he was a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Andrew Lo

Andrew Wen-Chuan Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Lo is the author of many academic articles in finance and financial economics. He founded AlphaSimplex Group in 1999 and served as Chairman and Chief Investment Strategist until 2018 when he transitioned to his current role as Chairman Emeritus and Senior Advisor.

Pranab Bardhan Indian economist

Pranab Kumar Bardhan is an Indian economist who has taught and worked in the United States since 1979. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stephen Edward Morris is an economic theorist and game theorist especially known for his research in the field of global games. Since July 2019, he has been Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to that he taught at Princeton, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. He was the editor of Econometrica for the period 2007–2011, and is currently president of the Econometric Society.

John Howland Cochrane is an economist, specializing in financial economics and macroeconomics. He is a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Andreu Mas-Colell

Andreu Mas-Colell is a Spanish economist, an expert in microeconomics and one of the world's leading mathematical economists. He is the founder of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and a professor in the department of economics at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. He has also served several times in the cabinet of the Catalan government. Summarizing his and others' research in general equilibrium theory, his monograph gave a thorough exposition of research using differential topology. His textbook on microeconomics, co-authored with Michael Whinston and Jerry Green, is the most used graduate microeconomics textbook in the world.

John Geanakoplos is an American economist, and the current James Tobin Professor of Economics at Yale University.

Disequilibrium macroeconomics

Disequilibrium macroeconomics is a tradition of research centered on the role of disequilibrium in economics. This approach is also known as non-Walrasian theory, equilibrium with rationing, the non-market clearing approach, and non-tâtonnement theory. Early work in the area was done by Don Patinkin, Robert W. Clower, and Axel Leijonhufvud. Their work was formalized into general disequilibrium models, which were very influential in the 1970s. American economists had mostly abandoned these models by the late 1970s, but French economists continued work in the tradition and developed fixprice models.

Roger Edward Alfred Farmer is a British/American economist. He is currently a Professor at the University of Warwick and is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor and former Chair of the Economics department at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has also held positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the European University Institute and the University of Toronto. He is a Fellow of the Econometric Society, Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Research Fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, and the former Research Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). In 2013, he was the Senior Houblon-Norman Fellow at the Bank of England. He is internationally recognized for his work on self-fulfilling prophecies. Farmer has published several scholarly articles in leading academic journals. He is also a co-founder of the Indeterminacy School in Macroeconomics. His body of work has advanced the view that beliefs are a new fundamental in economics that have the same methodological status as preferences, technology, and endowments. In his 1993 book, Macroeconomics of Self-fulfilling Prophecies, he argues that beliefs should be modeled with the introduction of a Belief Function, which explains how people form ideas about the future based on things they have seen in the past. In his 2010 book, Expectations, Employment and Prices, he suggests an alternative paradigm to New Keynesian economics which reintroduces a central idea from John Maynard Keynes' The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money; that high involuntary unemployment can persist as a permanent equilibrium outcome. He provided an accessible introduction to these ideas in his 2010 book How the Economy Works, and more recently, in his 2016 book Prosperity for All, both of which were written for a general audience. The Farmer Monetary Model has different and high policy implications and relevance. Farmer's policy proposal to achieve full employment by controlling and stabilizing asset prices shows promise as a way to help prevent stock market crashes and deep recessions. His son is the economist Leland Edward Farmer, who joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in July 2017.


  1. MIT Faculty page Retrieved: 20 July 2010
  2. Townsend, Robert M. "Emerging Thailand: The Spirit of Small Enterprise". Emerging Thailand. Retrieved 22 January 2016.