“Everyone’s an economist, some are just formally trained.”
In Cary Deck’s world, everything is economics, but as he points out, “Everyone’s an economist,” he says. “Some are just formally trained.”
Deck is formally trained in experimental economics. As a professor with the Department of Economics at Sam M. Walton College of Business, Deck studies how people interact by presenting students with different scenarios and seeing how economic models hold up when subjected to actual human behavior. He also directs the Walton College’s state-of-the-art Behavioral Business Research Lab, an interdisciplinary facility where researchers can study human behavior and decision-making. For example, students may be in the role of stock traders experiencing price bubbles or may play the role of firms competing in a patent race.
Deck, who recognizes the complexity of the world we live in, says the behavioral aspect of economics particularly fascinates him. “To me, it’s putting the science in economics,” he says.
“You’re creating a marketplace, so you get full information on how buyers and sellers interact and what makes those interactions change,” Deck says. In a recent study he considered how a retailer’s ability to identify what products a shopper places in her cart might impact the coupons she might receive on her phone as she goes down the next aisle.
He says he teaches his students to understand how markets work and how incentives influence people and affect outcomes. If seeing his passion for laboratory-based research gets them excited about economics, even better, Deck says. “When you see students realize how much we still have to learn about economics, and you can give them a toolbox to solve some of those problems, that’s always rewarding,” he says.
With a strength in mathematics, Deck says he knew as an undergraduate he wanted to be an economist. He says he also knew that most economic jobs require someone with a graduate degree so he went to the University of Wisconsin for a master’s degree. His interest in experimental economics research, however, was ignited when he was a graduate student at the University of Arizona, where he earned his doctorate degree under Nobel prize winner Vernon Smith, who pioneered the field of experimental economics.
Deck and his family came to the University of Arkansas in 2001. Though he says they fell in love with both the geography and culture of Northwest Arkansas – they enjoy the outdoors as much as possible – it was the university’s behavioral lab and the enthusiasm surrounding it that made this the natural move for them. “We have the best behavioral lab facility in the world,” he says.
While in Wisconsin, he met another economics graduate student who is a familiar face at Walton College: Kathy Deck, the director of the Walton College’s Center for Business and Economic Research, who is also his wife. Economics drew them together and they consider talking about maximizing “gross family product” a completely normal thing to do. The couple has a son, Josh, who has had a “supply and demand” poster in his room since his infancy. “Understanding economics is important for everyone. He is just lucky enough to have two trained economists living in the same house.”