Photo by Keegan Houser.
Dr. Gordon C. Rausser is the Robert Gordon Sproul Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the College of Natural Resources. He is a preeminent agricultural and resource economist whose contributions in academia, government service, business, and public policy are exceptional for their impact around the world. His leadership at Berkeley, including his exemplary service as dean of the College of Natural Resources, has had a critical and transformative effect in sustaining the College’s strength and enabling it to achieve global stature and influence.
Dr. Rausser is proud to be a product of California’s public education system: he received a B.S. in agriculture and statistics from California State University, Fresno, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Davis, along with a post-doctorate at the University of Chicago in both general economics and statistics. Early in his career, he was a resident fellow at the nonprofit organization Resources for the Future, served as a Fulbright Scholar in Australia, and founded and served as president of the Institute for Policy Reform Fellowship Program in Washington, D.C. In addition to his four decades at UC Berkeley, he has taught at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Hebrew University, UC Davis, and Iowa State University in both economics and statistics.
Leadership at Berkeley
The effects of Gordon Rausser’s leadership and achievement at Berkeley are broad and deep. During his years on the campus, he served on three separate occasions as chair of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) at the College of Natural Resources. At the beginning of his first term as chair, the department was ranked 11th in reputational studies; at the end of his second consecutive term, it was ranked first in all such evaluations. His efforts as department chair to cultivate a cooperative spirit, set high expectations for tenured positions and faculty research, and recruit new faculty members who embraced a culture of excellence led to the ranking of ARE’s Ph.D. program as the best in the country.
He was also a forward-thinking and inventive leader within the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and California’s Agricultural Experiment Station — fundamental parts of the University of California’s original charge as a land-grant university and important components of UC’s continuing contributions to the state. He has served as director of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, which supports efforts in agricultural and resource economics throughout the UC system, and he jointly prepared a seminal article on the social value of the Giannini Foundation.
After successfully serving as chairman of the Haas School of Business Siting and Architectural Faculty Committee in the mid-1980s, Dr. Rausser also had a pivotal role in shaping and sustaining the Department of Economics and the campus-wide landscape for economics at Berkeley. In the late 1980s, he served as chair of a high-level committee charged with evaluating the state of economics at Berkeley. This committee’s findings and recommendations, presented in a document that became known as the “Rausser Report,” reversed a period of underinvestment and defined a path forward for the department and the campus, including increasing the size of the department’s faculty, making faculty salaries more competitive, and establishing coordination and cooperation among areas of economics research and instruction across the campus. Today, Berkeley’s Department of Economics and Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics are consistently ranked among the best in the world, and the campus produces renowned, innovative and influential economics scholarship.
Gordon Rausser’s imprint on the Berkeley campus is nowhere greater than at the College of Natural Resources, where his leadership as dean from 1994 to 2000 made a crucial difference. Faced in 1994 with a campus realignment proposal that would have significantly cut the College’s faculty and discretionary resources, Dr. Rausser instead led a fundamental restructuring that substantively increased the quality of all of its programs.
At this critical juncture in the College’s history, Dr. Rausser’s vision as dean laid the groundwork for transformative change: revitalizing the College’s research efforts, expanding its role in undergraduate and professional education, enhancing engagement in cooperative extension programs, and increasing administrative and budgetary efficiency. Under his watch, the CNR faculty and budget increased significantly, the number of faculty members appointed to chairs and professorships grew, both endowment and annual giving to the College increased dramatically, new undergraduate majors were introduced, and the number of graduate applications rose significantly.
J. Keith Gilless, who served as dean of CNR in subsequent years, has observed:
Gordon Rausser assumed leadership of the College of Natural Resources at a point when the College’s mission needed to be redefined and its structure realigned to deliver on that mission. The College and the campus were under tremendous financial stress. . . . Rausser was up to these challenges, reinvigorating a stalled academic reorganization of the college to achieve a departmental structure that was better aligned to support faculty in their exploration of cutting-edge research opportunities. . . .
The new structure laid a sound foundation for the growth of the College’s undergraduate programs, forward-looking faculty hiring, and the emergence of new and re-invigorated graduate programs that dominate in national rankings. . . . Without Rausser’s ambitious and effective transformation of the College during his deanship, it is unlikely that it would have survived, much less become one of Berkeley’s treasures.
Gordon Rausser also provided the intellectual leadership for the so-called Berkeley-Novartis Agreement (1998), the most creative public-private research and development agreement of its time, established in the face of much controversy about genetically modified organisms. The partnership brought Novartis’s significant financial, intellectual, and technological resources together with Berkeley’s strengths in plant genomics to advance research in the public interest. It also offered an important model: this agreement, along with an analysis of such public-private partnerships across the research university landscape, is presented in Dr. Rausser’s award-winning book, Structuring Public-Private Research Partnerships for Success: Empowering University Partners.
In short, Gordon Rausser has made a critical difference across the Berkeley campus, and his leadership as dean of CNR transformed the quality of its academic programs and their external rankings: the College is now a world leader in all of its disciplines. The evolution of CNR has been documented on numerous occasions in the magazine, Breakthroughs, created by Dean Rausser as a branding vehicle for the College, which continues to flourish.
When Dr. Rausser was honored at the conclusion of his tenure as dean of the College of Natural Resources, Carol Christ — now Berkeley’s Chancellor, and then Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost — made remarks celebrating his accomplishments. In describing his style as a leader, she evoked a distinction between “the fox and the hedgehog” inspired by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus and made popular by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin — “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Carol Christ likened Gordon Rausser to both:
He has brought an extraordinary variety of innovative ideas and strategies to his deanship — the personality of the fox. He knows many tricks. But his most characteristic strategy is to resort to first principles. . . . He has insisted on uncompromising standards of excellence. . . . It’s a testimony to his achievement as dean that he is something of both the fox and the hedgehog.
In addition to leading transformative change at Berkeley and for the College of Natural Resources, Dr. Rausser has had an extraordinary impact as a professional in his field, within academia, in government and policy, and in entrepreneurship and business. Over the course of his career, he has made pioneering contributions to a number of fundamental areas of economic inquiry — in several instances, providing the seminal contribution that inspired others. His creativity and productivity as a scholar have been recognized by no fewer than 29 merit awards to date for original discoveries in the design and implementation of public policy, multilateral bargaining, collective choice and statistical decision theory, design of legal and regulatory infrastructure supporting sound governance, modeling dynamic stochastic processes, and the design of innovative environmental and natural resource economic analytical frameworks. Many of these acknowledgements took the form of awards for publications of enduring quality, quality of research discovery and best refereed journal articles. He has published more than 250 articles and book chapters, along with 19 books and more than 100 commissioned papers, governmental reports, and working papers. In 2020, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Executive Board voted unanimously to name the opening keynote address at future annual meetings, in perpetuity, to honor Gordon Rausser. This recognition honors his lifetime of research achievements and exceptional intellectual leadership of the profession.
Gordon Rausser’s exceptional contributions in his academic career and as a partner to the College of Natural Resources have been recognized by a unique distinction from the College. He was, until recently, the only member of the CNR faculty (composed of more than 130 tenure-track professors) to receive both the College of Natural Resources Citation Award (2004) and the Career Achievement Award (2010). Each of these honors is awarded annually to a single individual: the Citation Award recognizes a friend of the College who demonstrates an exceptional commitment to CNR and its mission and has made a significant impact, while the Achievement Award honors a tenured faculty member for distinguished teaching and research through the course of a career. Along with these and numerous other honors, Dr. Rausser has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1994), the American Statistical Association (1991), and the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (1990).
As a luminary in both statistics and economics, Dr. Rausser has also played a crucial role in the editorship of leading journals in these fields. He has served as editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics; associate editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association for almost a decade; associate editor of the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control; and, most recently, for the past 15 years, founding editor of the prestigious Annual Review of Resource Economics, focusing on agricultural, economic development, environmental, energy, and resource economics. Equally important, he was selected (while still dean of CNR) as one of two co-editors, 1998-2002, to prepare four volumes of the Handbooks in Economics series, focusing on agricultural and resource economics and designed as a definitive source for use by professional researchers and advanced Ph.D. students. In each of these roles, he has established the highest standards for peer review evaluations.
Beyond UC Berkeley and the University of California system, Dr. Rausser has played a leadership role at Palo Alto University (PAU), a private, nonprofit professional school focused on education and research in psychology for the greater good. Looking back on Dr. Rausser’s service on the board (2000-2017) and as chair of the finance committee, PAU President Emeritus Allen Calvin wrote that Gordon provided “the kind of exemplary leadership, including the design of a critical financial template, required at that time for Palo Alto University to continue on its positive trajectory. We are in his debt forever.”
Economic Policy Leadership and Reform
Among the most important of Gordon Rausser’s professional achievements are his leadership and innovation in economic policy, an area in which the effects of his contributions have reverberated around the globe. He served as senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors in the 1980s (responsible for agriculture, trade and finance) and subsequently accepted a second federal government appointment, again on leave of absence from Berkeley, to become chief economist of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) from 1988 to 1990. In this post, he managed over 500 economists working throughout the developing and emerging market world. During Dr. Rausser’s tenure at AID, and subsequently as president of the Institute for Policy Reform, he developed new guidelines for the strategy statements that define the path to advance countries’ economic development, while receiving a special State Department award for leadership. His research program began to focus on the importance of sound governance, government accountability, and political, civil, and economic freedoms.
With his 1990 article “A New Paradigm for Policy Reform and Economic Development,” and with dozens of further publications on the same theme, Dr. Rausser argued that international agencies (e.g., the IMF and the World Bank) and donor agencies (e.g., AID) should not make assistance conditional on outcomes or establishment of particular government policies. Instead, his work made clear that decision-making about which countries are given priority for economic assistance should emphasize underlying constitutions and the design of institutions. He wrote in 1992:
These arrangements are usually overlooked in ideological debate and in scholarly research, and their importance is not generally appreciated in either the mature market economies or in the societies in transition. . . .[But] privatized enterprises will work well only after a society has established the institutions that are needed for an efficient private sector.
For example, he argued, democratic governmental and judicial institutions are critical to the enforcement of contracts, the security of private property and the assignment of liability for wrongful conduct. Without sound constitutional structures, there is likely to be a maldistribution of political power, in which political agents are unencumbered in pursuing self-interest rather than the public interest. In essence, he argued that the underlying constitution must be designed to establish the credible guidelines and mechanisms for “rules by which rules are made.” In a 1993 publication in World Development, he proposed that for the former communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, “The public sector must play a dominant role during the transition process and will be effective if and only if a well-designed constitution and an associated legal and regulatory infrastructure is first established.”
Before Gordon Rausser’s entry into this arena, policymakers largely held to the so-called Washington Consensus of the 1970s and 1980s, which emphasized allowing the free market to “get prices right.” Yet his research and efforts as president of the Institute for Policy Reform demonstrated successfully that such an approach was misguided. Ultimately, in the mid-1990s, the IMF and the World Bank embraced his arguments and turned to supporting public-sector policies that reflect his insights into the essential importance of good governance in all of its aspects. At the time, IMF Managing Director Michael Camdessus remarked, “Every country that hopes to maintain market confidence must come to terms with good governance.”
Following the Great Recession of 2008-09, Dr. Rausser once again exerted a crucial influence on economic policy, this time in the U.S. Based on his award-winning work on futures markets and derivatives, he took note of Warren Buffet’s 2002 observation that “governments have so far found no effective way to control . . . the risks posed by these contracts,” and that derivatives constitute latent “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Motivated by this insight, Gordon Rausser and his colleagues designed a patent that focused on permissioning, counter-party risk, and avoidance of systemic risk, issued in 2010 and entitled “Integrated Electronic Exchange of Structured Contracts with Dynamic Risk-Based Transaction Permissioning.” This effort — along with numerous other publications, as well as consulting work with organized futures markets exchanges in the U.S. and England — formed part of the intellectual foundation for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
Consulting and Entrepreneurship
Reflecting the themes of his research, Dr. Rausser’s career also encompasses remarkable contributions as an economic consultant to government agencies and private clients, with a focus on applying economics and finance to complex legal and public policy disputes. His consulting experience includes issues associated with economic damage determination, economic feasibility studies, antitrust violations, unfair competition, market manipulation, class certification, risk valuation, and statistical and econometric modeling. On numerous occasions, he has provided expert testimony in matters involving pharmaceutical products, patent infringement and patent infringement damages, commercial success, new product introduction, and damages flowing from delayed entry or anticompetitive barriers to market entry. Many of Dr. Rausser’s refereed journal publications reflect insights drawn from his expert testimony on matters related to ground water contamination, surface water pollution, air pollution, diminution of property values, Superfund site remediation, attempted manipulation of commodity futures markets, merger and acquisition analysis, breach of contract in many agribusiness and commodity industries, food safety, false labeling, housing discrimination, environmental justice, lender liability, false representations, and market collusion.
In addition to his efforts as a consultant, Gordon Rausser has made significant contributions as an entrepreneur. These achievements include his role as co-founder and chairman of Emeryville-based OnPoint Analytics, which provides business consulting services specializing in expert testimony in economics, data analytics, finance, and statistics. He has served on the boards — in many instances, as chair — of at least 20 companies, both public and private. He was a co-founder with three fellow Berkeley faculty members, and served as board member, of LECG (the Law and Economics Consulting Group); the company was taken public in 1997.
Guiding Values and Commitment
In 2015, when the UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics program celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Ph.D. program, Gordon Rausser was honored as an inaugural recipient of the ARE department’s outstanding Ph.D. Alumni Award. In speaking to his fellow alumni and UC Davis faculty about the formative experience of his years at Davis, Dr. Rausser articulated some of the lessons and values that underpin his life and work. He told the story of becoming a faculty member after only two years of Ph.D. coursework at Davis, while completing his dissertation, serving as Ph.D. director for six graduate students, stepping up to manage a family farm after his father’s death, and raising his own young family. He spoke about how the chaos attendant on all of these demands helped teach him to set a high priority on the work he loves. At root, Gordon Rausser has been driven by a desire to seek out challenges, a sustaining passion for his work, and a profound sense of responsibility. As a leader, he has built communities grounded in intellectual rigor, generative collaboration, and — in Carol Christ’s words — “uncompromising standards of excellence.” These values are consonant with Berkeley at its core. We are fortunate that Gordon Rausser has enacted them through his leadership and achievements on this campus.
Dr. Rausser’s accomplishments at Berkeley reflect his deep love and affection for the College of Natural Resources, where he has spent the past four decades serving the institution. That dedication and love are also expressed in his generosity as a donor to CNR. During the Campaign for the New Century (1993-2001), he established the Gordon Rausser Endowed Scholarship Fund. He has continued to add to the endowment, with his contributions matched through an incentive program for faculty and staff who give to Berkeley. Today, the market value of the fund is more than $620,000, and its payout supports exceptional Ph.D. students in the top-ranked Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics as well as undergraduates with financial need in the Environmental Economics and Policy major sponsored by CNR.
- Rausser, Gordon C. ; Swinnen, Johan & Zusman, Pinhas (2011). Political Power and Economic Policy: Theory, Analysis, and Empirical Applications. Cambridge University Press.