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The Economist

  By Beth DeBoom
Photos by Lisa Hazlett
 

Todd Knoop
Todd Knoop balances teaching, research, and family. He recently published his first economics book and is at work on a second one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a corner office of venerable College Hall, framed by an outdoor backdrop of autumnal glow, Todd Knoop looks the part of a stereotypical economics professor. His shirt is button-down, his face clean shaven, his glasses brown and classic.

Beneath this preppy academic exterior is an exhausted runner. Just two days before, Knoop competed in the Chicago Marathon. Today he’s hobbling. But from the pain is much gain. Knoop runs to stay in shape and because it’s enjoyable. “It’s also relaxing—it’s my quiet time,” he explained of his hobby.

Knoop’s other beloved hobby is also his profession. The 35-year-old associate professor of economics and business has long had an interest in politics, and in particular, the role of government in policy. He’s drawn to the critical thinking skills that are the foundation of economics, and believes such skills are important for college students to learn before launching into business careers.

“Then, in their first job they can learn the practical elements,” Knoop said.

But it’s not always an easy sell, persuading students to prioritize the social science of economics over the study of business principles.

Knoop has been at Cornell for six years as part of a five-person economics and business department that combines the two distinct but intertwined disciplines. Business is the more popular of the two, Knoop said, winning students who want specific tools for business success, instead of taking time to understand the complexities of human choices in the marketplace.

Knoop, even as an undergrad, knew economics was his true calling. By the time he graduated in 1991 from Miami University in Ohio, he also knew he wanted teaching to be his career. He earned his master’s at Miami University, and his PhD from Purdue University.

In 1996 Knoop and his wife, Deb DeLaet, were living a commuter marriage. Knoop was teaching at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and she was teaching politics and international relations at Drake University in Des Moines. Knoop was driving four hours each way on most weekends. So the chance to work at Cornell in 1999 was welcomed by Knoop professionally and personally.

Knoop, likewise, was welcomed by Cornell. “We were delighted to be able to attract him to Cornell,” said Don Cell, professor emeritus of economics, who occupied the corner office in College Hall before Knoop. Today the couple lives in Iowa City and has two daughters, Edie, 5, and Daphne, 2. The family-friendly atmosphere of Cornell is one of the things that Knoop loves most about his job.

Knoop, an ambitious researcher, was also pleased to receive a $5,000 McConnell Fellowship to reduce his time in the classroom for a semester and to hire a student research assistant while he completed his book, which was released last fall. Recessions and Depressions: Understanding Business Cycles details the evolution of business cycle theory and shows the fallibility of economists’ forecasts. Taking a look at famous economic downturns—the Great Depression, the Asian meltdown of the 1990s, the 2001 U.S. recession—Knoop reasons that we still don’t fully know what causes these downturns.

It’s this sort of contemplation that Knoop loves.

“Economics is never going to be a discipline that is good at prediction. What it’s good at is explaining after the fact,” Knoop said.

 

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