Professor David Berger Joins Duke Economics as Associate Professor

Friday, August 23, 2019
Professor David Berger

David Berger may have been destined to go into academia. As the child of two psychology professors at Georgia State University, he always knew he wanted to take a similar path. Initially, when he started his undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, he thought he might go into math. “I always liked math, but I've always been kind of big picture person, and so when I took my first economics class, it all snapped into focus,” Berger said. Thanks to a roommate that was an economics major and a professor that instilled in him with a love of macro, Berger decided to major in economics. He rounded the degree out with minors in history and English. He now encourages his students to study other subjects alongside economics. “I think college is a beautiful time and I always try to encourage them to try different things. I know college is expensive, but there’s a kind of breadth that can come from taking a literature class or a philosophy class.”

After graduation, Berger worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of D.C. as a research assistant for two years. “It was great. I fully recommend living in a relatively big city as a young person. I worked for some great people, got to co-author some papers, and then I went on to grad school.” At Yale, Berger met Joe Vavra, who now works at Chicago Booth. Vavra ended up being one of Berger’s closest co-authors. 

In 2012, Berger started his first faculty position at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. “Chicago, I think is in some sense the best place to be a junior faculty. Chicago Booth is close by and has a ton of people. The Fed is incredible, as is all of Northwestern in terms of Kellogg (School of Business). There were are always new people coming in, and it has a great macro group.” Berger also met his wife while living there, and said it will always have a special place in his heart.

Berger describes himself as an empirical macroeconomist. “I use models like a traditional macroeconomist, but I also try to use micro methods that would be more familiar to the applied micro faculty here, like in development or labor.” His research interests are focused on macroeconomics and monetary economics, labor economics, and international trade and finance. “My overarching question usually has something to do with some sort of heterogeneity and the intersection of government policy, and how that has real world impacts.”

One of Berger’s most recent projects looks at how monetary policy interacts with the types of mortgages people have.  He describes himself as “somebody who gets really excited about talking about mortgage products,” which is reflected in his work and research. “Particularly, the question is, how much policy room does the Fed have to lower interest rates to stimulate us out of a recession?” Berger seeks to answer this question through diving into the increasing amount of data that is now available. “This is one thing I want to show our students: how the availability of data has opened up more of what we know about public policy and macro policy.”

Aside from enjoying the warmer weather in Durham, Berger has a lot to look forward to at Duke, where he will be an associate professor of economics.  He will be teaching a second-year Ph.D. class in the spring, which will be on topics of household heterogeneity and macro outcomes. “Duke is a growing economics department, which I like. I like how interdisciplinary it is, and there’s a good mix of faculty here. One of the things that really attracted me to Duke is that we have a really vibrant applied community here, and it dovetails naturally with the kind of macro that I do.”