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Dr. Robert Goldfarb
Professor Emeritus of Economics
Born in Bronx, New York and raised on Long Island, Professor Robert Goldfarb initially assumed he would pursue a career as a high school teacher. Yet, it was his distinct interest in interdisciplinary academic research that led him to higher education. Goldfarb entered Columbia University in the early 1960s as an English major, inspired by the Great Books curriculum and a general interest in the humanities, namely art and music. Upon enrolling in an economics course, he fell in love with the field. Looking back on his initial exposure to economics, he notes, “I liked it because it combined ‘low brow’ mathematics with policy concerns,” thus allowing Goldfarb to pursue a slightly non-traditional approach to economics, both topically and methodologically.
Professor Goldfarb arrived at The George Washington University in 1973, receiving tenure in 1980. He served as the Chair of the Economics Department from 1983 to 1986 as well as the principal advisor to the Department’s masters program. His undergraduate and graduate classes range in interest and scope, including Honors Microeconomics, “Writing in the Disciplines” (WID) courses, and a microeconomic policy analysis course in the Public Policy program. Goldfarb describes the Honors Introductory Microeconomics course as particularly enjoyable, noting “because the students are honors students, I get to present material beyond and in a deeper way than what might typically be covered in an introductory course. When these courses were first designed, they were supposed to have some interdisciplinary elements. [My course] involves some delving into philosophical issues about how economics proceeds.”
Indeed, his early interest in the humanities has also shaped his teaching style and philosophy, particularly in the area of writing. “I think I have a knack for helping economic students with their writing, because I happen to be a relatively good editor of other people’s writing. I was an English major before switching to economics, and the English courses – with the intense feedback on the considerable volume of writing required – honed my ability to edit my own first drafts.” With more than 80 publications to his name, this interest in and fluency in writing in a multitude of disciplines is abundantly clear.
Unlike the more “mathematically-oriented” scholars in the discipline, Goldfarb positions himself of the “literary/philosophical end of economics.” Prior to 1983, he primarily worked on the economics of labor markets, particularly in terms of the economics of wage determination and regulation. Since 1986, Goldfarb’s research interests have shifted, engaging more directly with questions of economic methodology, questions of rationality and individual choice, and microeconomic analysis of specific policy concerns. This interdisciplinary coupling of quantitative tools with philosophy and policy analysis has since framed Professor Goldfarb’s distinguished career, leading him to publish on diverse topics from the economics of vaccinations, nursing shortages, publicly financed (and controversial) public sculpture, cigarette addiction, dieting, and voting behavior.
Professor Goldfarb has collaborated with a number of colleagues in different disciplines, including William Griffith, the former chair of George Washington’s Philosophy Department and Lee Sigelman, the late chair of George Washington’s Political Science Department. Indeed, Goldfarb cites these collaborations with colleagues and former students as one of the high points of his distinguished career, reflecting that “one of the major benefits for me of being at GW these many decades has been the degree to which I have enjoyed my colleagues, a number of whom have become lifelong friends.”
B.A., Economics, Columbia University, 1964
M.A., Economics, Yale University, 1965
M.Phil., Economics, Yale University, 1967
Ph.D., Economics, Yale University, 1968