The Founding of the Carroll Round

Letter from Christopher L. Griffin, Jr., the founder of the Carroll Round

Whenever I am asked about the history of the Carroll Round, a story about Oxford and a pub called the Radcliffe Arms pub usually comes to mind. While there is truth in this tale, the conference’s roots extend firmly and unambiguously to the Georgetown University campus. For it was there that a remarkable team of friends and colleagues assembled and launched the Carroll Round in 2001.

During the 1999-2000 academic year, I had the great pleasure of meeting and learning alongside seven outstanding economics classmates. My first meaningful discussions about economics took place that year with fellow students Andrew Hayashi and Ryan Michaels. Andrew and I were both enrolled in Professor Mitch Kaneda’s International Trade class that semester, and Ryan suffered with me through Microeconomic Theory as well as the demanding Introduction to Political Economy. I remember feeling intimidated at first by their ever-expanding knowledge of theory and their boundless enthusiasm for learning. Over time, however, I realized the extent to which I was learning from their unique perspectives; their insights often proved more valuable than the content of weekly lectures. I also became acquainted with a group of young classmates, including Bill Brady, Josh Harris, Kathryn Magee, Brendan Mullen, and Scott Pedowitz. By the spring, our paths all pointed to Europe: Bill, Kathryn, and Scott to the London School of Economics; Brendan to the University of Bristol, and Josh, our resident Slavophile, to Poland and Hungary. Andrew, Ryan, and I planned to spend our year abroad at the University of Oxford studying a mixture of philosophy, politics, and economics. Before departing in October 2000, I knew our shared plans were not the product of mere coincidence—something special would emerge from the experience.

Having established initial ties at Georgetown, Andrew, Ryan and I began meeting on a regular basis to discuss our latest tutorial sessions, grueling problem sets, the future of macroeconomics and, occasionally, the latest gossip about luminaries in the field. Whereas C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other Inklings made The Eagle and Child their intellectual home away from home, we adopted the Radcliffe Arms as our haven. Over pints and pub food, Andrew’s twin passions for game theory and philosophy emerged. The future of monetary policy and development began to vex Ryan’s thoughts, while I hoped to better understand the mechanisms of cooperation, or conflict, underlying international trade institutions.

Meanwhile at Pembroke College, I encountered a group of students from universities across the country also spending their junior years at Oxford. Although I befriended the other economists in our contingent, I also developed close relationships with physicists, biologists, literary scholars, and art historians. In the Junior Common Room or over traditional English dinners in the dining hall, we shared stories about life at our respective universities and the latest research we were conducting at Oxford. As thesis and postgraduate plans matured during these conversations, I appreciated ever more my exposure to alternative experiences and approaches to scholarship. The year eventually came to an end, and I worried that these exciting connections would dissolve upon return to the United States.

One evening at the start of my final term in Oxford, I thought about the importance of this dialogue and my growing affinity for international economics. I harbored a distressing feeling that undergraduates, especially in economics, were not afforded adequate opportunities to present their work in a serious research setting. After all, I always felt privileged when Andrew, Ryan, and my fellow Pembrokians shared their original ideas with me. Thus, I concluded that undergraduate economists from around the country deserved an event in which they could interact significantly with each other and the professional academic community. In March 2001, I composed a memo that outlined my solution: the Carroll Round. The following paragraph from that proposal captures my motivating thoughts:

As they prepare for careers in academia, public service, and business, undergraduate students throughout the country also have joined a momentous dialogue in collegiate, national, and global fora. Many are involved in independent research representing the next generation of critical thought in international relations. Others have enjoyed unique experiences through jobs and internship programs that expose them to the front lines of economic policy-making and statecraft. Young women and men also have championed vociferously environmental and labor-related causes through awareness and service programs. Clearly, these timely economic issues are assuming greater importance for the future of international relations and are reflected in the abundance of attendant student research, interest, and initiative. Therefore, I propose to coordinate and host, in association with Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and John Carroll Scholars Program, the next ‘round’ of economic and political discussion and debate—the Carroll Round.

Unsure of their likely reactions, I invited Andrew and Ryan to join me in this endeavor over pints at the Radcliffe Arms. I was confident that if such rising stars believed in the concept, other students would join in time. Having worked out more substantive ideas over the summer, I was finally prepared to call upon the other economics celebrities in my class to collaborate on the project. Bill, Josh, Kathryn, Brendan, and Scott fortunately signed on and completed the senior circle. A few months later we welcomed four more students: Cullen Drescher, Mark Longstreth, Waheed Sheikh, and future Chair Meredith Gilbert to encourage younger students and ensure continuity for the future.

With the unflagging assistance of John Carroll Scholars Program Director John Glavin, the proposal was circulated among university administrators. After gaining their initial support, I asked Mitch Kaneda, my most influential undergraduate teacher and a newly appointed Associate Dean of the School of Foreign Service, to review the proposal. Without hesitation—and somewhat to my surprise—he offered his assistance, embarking on an indefinite and irreplaceable stewardship of the Carroll Round. Also during the fall, Deans Robert Gallucci and Betty Andretta extended moral and financial support, which cemented our institutional sponsorship at Georgetown.

The Carroll Round Steering Committee struggled through many difficult decisions regarding conference content, format, and funding. Should submitted papers be limited to topics in international economics? What elements must be included in submissions and presentations? How do we ensure that financial constraints do not influence students’ decisions to attend? Over marathon sessions in Healy Hall and at the Tombs, we developed a model for the Carroll Round that has largely remained intact. Development Officers Christine Smith and Jim Patti shared our ideas with generous alumni who responded favorably and pledged individual donations. Little by little, our initial concepts materialized into reality. When the Sallie Mae Fund contributed $10,000 to the Carroll Round, we both gained a lead sponsor and secured the long-term future of the conference.

After distributing colorful brochures, contacting the top departments in the country and preparing the Hilltop for the event, applications streamed in during the spring. By late March, we had narrowed our list of invited students to thirty-two. Seniors traveled to Washington from as near as the University of Virginia and as far as Stanford University. The Committee was stunned by the enthusiasm expressed by the participants and their home departments. Among the more notable responses, Illinois-Wesleyan University sent four young economists to the conference and soon after published a special Carroll Round edition of their undergraduate economics journal.

The inaugural Carroll Round officially began on Friday April 5, 2002 and the proceedings came to a close two days later. Participants enjoyed an exclusive audience with Director of the National Economic Council Lawrence B. Lindsey in the beautiful Riggs Library before hurrying to the Federal Reserve for another private meeting with then Vice Chairman Roger W. Ferguson and current Vice Chairman Donald L. Kohn. The two monetary policy experts shared candid stories about the effects of September 11, 2001 on the nation’s banking system and the various roles that the Federal Reserve plays in American economic activity. Dr. Lindsey’s speech marked another first— the inaugural Ibrahim Oweiss Lecture in honor of our beloved Georgetown economics professor. Dr. John Williamson of the Institute for International Economics spoke about development issues over a splendid dinner at Cafe Milano, and Dr. Edwin M. Truman, former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for International Affairs, closed the conference with words of wisdom to students considering careers in academia and policymaking.

A total of 28 papers were presented over the weekend, including the impressive work of MIT’s Maria Jelescu in “The Role of Hedge Funds in World Financial Crises,” the noteworthy “The World Food Economy to 2050: A Nonlinear Dynamic General Equilibrium, Two Sector, Three Factor Endogenous Growth Approach to Long-Term World-Level Macroeconomic Forecasting” from Stanford’s Benn Eifert, Carlos Gálvez, Avinash Kaza, and Jack Moore, and “The Global Integration of Stock Markets” by Yale’s Fadi Kanaan. Georgetown professors who served as panel discussants later remarked that the quality of some presentations met or surpassed the sophistication of recent graduate-level dissertations. Judging by their comments, the conference brought together some of the best young prospects in economics as they approached the frontiers of research.

I never imagined in March 2001 that the first Carroll Round would attain the heights realized one year later, or for that matter even exist. Over the past six years, the event has grown in size and scope beyond my initial hopes. The participation of Nobel Laureates John F. Nash, Jr. in 2004, Thomas Schelling in 2006, and Eric Maskin in 2009, as well as Susan Athey, the first female recipient of the John Bates Clark medal, in 2008, marked special peaks in the evolution of the conference, and I hope that over time students from the developing world will be able to attend. I continue to enjoy meeting participants and learning about their research interests. As they share in the excitement of presenting their work and the occasional trepidation of fielding questions, I feel humbled to be among such gifted individuals. In fact, alumni from previous years have advanced to graduate study at Berkeley, Chicago, MIT, Michigan, Oxford, Princeton, Yale, and Wisconsin as well as top government and finance positions around the country. This group of former conference participants has truly grown into a professional and academic network unlike any other for young economists.

Christopher L. Griffin, Jr.
Georgetown Class of 2002
Carroll Round Founder