Experimental Economics and Business Education: an Interview with Nobel Laureate Vernon Lomax Smith

SMALL BUSINESS ECONOMICS 47.1 (2016): 261-275

Abstract: This interview with Nobel Laureate Vernon Lomax Smith covers a variety of topics, from Vernon’s early formative experiences growing up on a Kansas farm in the Great Depression to his path-breaking scholarship in the area of experimental economics. We set the stage for the interview by summarizing Smith’s scholarly contributions and early life experience. Our interview begins with a discussion of Smith’s childhood education and experiences which shaped his attitude toward scholarship, entrepreneurship, markets, and work. We then turn to Smith’s lifelong nurturing of scholarly interests in multiple academic fields including engineering, economics, and philosophy, and probe how this multidisciplinary approach may have led him to eschew the standard thinking about the boundaries of economics and pioneer the field of experimental economics. As Smith has been a student or professor at more than a dozen universities in a career spanning more than seven decades, we probe his philosophies on business education, including the best models for business schools. We then discuss Smith’s ability to focus intensely—a phenomenon he labels “defective switching.” The final interview questions center on topics which have fascinated Smith throughout his career: Scottish Enlightenment economist Adam Smith, ethics, and management. Our conclusion highlights Smith’s contributions and their implications for business education, particularly small business economics and entrepreneurship.