Faculty Focus - Johannes Hörner

Johannes Hörner
To kick off its inaugural issue, CQ catches up with Alfred Cowles Professor of Economics Johannes Hörner for a meet and greet, Q&A faculty focus session. Hörner came to Yale in 2008 and has been a member of the Cowles Research Staff since the same year. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, and went on to teach at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University before starting at Yale.
His academic interests range from game theory to the theory of industrial organization, with his research focusing on repeated games, dynamic games and auctions. Last fall, he was appointed editor for the American Economic Journal - Microeconomics, and is currently on leave for the 2016-17 academic year visiting Toulouse School of Economics.

What are you currently researching? 

With Nicolas Vieille, and Xiaosheng Mu (a former Yale undergrad!), I am currently working on truthtelling and liespotting. Mark Twain once said that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. If you lie, however, you must have a good memory, because you are bound by your past claims, and consistency in consecutive claims is important for the lie to remain undetected. For instance, you might have thought that it was clever of you to pretend you liked ballet when you first met that young and attractive person, but keep in mind that you might end up having to go to ballet every week for the next forty years, if you want your lie to remain unnoticed. We are exploring what kind of patterns in reports one should pay attention to, and, as a strategic person, how sophisticated lying strategies have to be. These questions are important for the economics of information, where we try to understand how to best elicit the private information of agents.

Congratulations on being named editor of The American Economic Journal: Microeconomics! what does the position mean to you, and what do you look for in a paper for publication?

Being an editor is an honor, a duty and an opportunity. It’s an honor, to the extent that it means that my peers trust my judgment and my dedication. It’s a duty, because as an author, I have benefited countless times from the advice and help from editors and referees; taking such a position is a way to pay back. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to try my hand at contributing to a young but already established journal. Running a journal is a very special business: you have to attract as many submissions as possible, yet the more you attract, the more you end up rejecting. To meet this challenge, you have to be fair to the authors, and add value to the papers, even those that are rejected. This is a job done by the referees and the editorial board, and the editor merely tries to coordinate their efforts.

Can we expect to see one of your papers in the AEA or another journal In the near future?

I sure hope so! But it is probably best to not submit to one’s “own” journal, and the decision ultimately belongs to other editors. I have worked with Yeon-Koo Che (Columbia) on spamming that we hope to see published soon, perhaps at the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

What is your favorite class to teach and why?

Clearly, this has to be mathematical game theory, the undergraduate course in game theory that I teach at Yale. As every undergrad knows, this is a very hard course, but it is fun and challenging!

What advice do you have for undergraduates pursuing a degree in economics?

Take courses that you enjoy and challenge you. It’s not about memorizing facts and methods. It’s about discovering what works for you, how you learn best and what gets you excited. But I guess that applies to lots of fields!