Nobel prize winning Queen’s Alum sits down with ‘The Journal’

David Card encourages students to ‘take advantage of the opportunities’

Card speaks to his research and journey in academia.  
Supplied by Niklas Elmed
“I got a call at 2 a.m. and it was a call from Sweden. At first I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke.” 
David Card, ArtSci ’78 and LLD ‘99, recalled in a phone interview with The Journal the day he found out he was receiving this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics
Born in Guelph, Card came to Queen’s with the intention to study science. Economics wasn’t always his intended path. 
“When I went to Queen’s I was originally thinking of doing work in Chemistry and Physics, but then I was helping my girlfriend at the time, and I was reading her textbook,” Card said.
“I found it very interesting, and got intrigued by it, and thought of taking an Economics course.” 
Having worked at a steel factory growing up, Card said his personal background has largely influenced his decision to pursue his study in labour economics, migration, and wealth distribution. 
“My family was not rich. My dad was a farmer, and I had a lot of jobs—some pretty crappy jobs too,” he said.
Card said there are some very important issues concerning the perception of people at the bottom of the wealth divide. 
“I felt like there were a lot of important issues involving how people are at the bottom of the labour market, and how they survive. In the 60s and 70s there was a lot of interest in income support programs, and that interest has come back,” Card said. 
Under Reaganomics in the 80s, Card said it was almost uncommon for scholars to work on topics regarding “lower waged people.”
Despite this climate, he persisted. 
“Growing up in Guelph, there was a big Italian immigrant community. Many of my friends in high school were children of migrants who came after World War II. Many of these people were very, very poor when they came to Canada and their children and grandchildren have done quite well afterwards,” Card said. 
“There has always been some negativity about immigration, but my experience was that it was a big plus for the Guelph, Kitchener, and Waterloo area.”
For Card, refugees and migrant workers have also played a large role in his story as well as Canada’s history. 
“Canada has received many refugees over many years. In the 50s there were migrants from Hungary to Canada, and one of them was a neighbour of mine and he bought a farm and it was so interesting to talk to him,” Card said. 
“In the 60s, when I was in the eighth grade, there was a big migration of people of Indian ethnicity from Uganda.”
Speaking to his own career, Card emphasized the human element in economics that’s very important and often not 
thought about. 
“There are some people mainly interested in the financial markets. But most people who study economics are actually interested in the human behaviour side,” he explained. 
“We want to make the world function better and we want to understand why some groups are doing better than others. That is also mostly what labour economics is.” 
Card said patience is key in the research field. 
“Most of what is happening in research will only be noticed by those in the field. But once in a while someone does set the stage for another person’s launching point. This is kind of what happened with the minimum wage work I did with Alan Krueger,” Card said.
“You have to have patience, what you do this year might not be recognized this year. It is similar to good literature and art. Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive.” 
Card said all students should be taking advantage of the opportunities around them. 
“There are more students than faculty but there are a lot of amazing opportunities across departments in a university. People don’t realize how unique that opportunity is,” Card said.  
Card had two mentors at Queen’s who shaped the way he worked in his career. 
“I had to take courses that had no prerequisites because I was so late getting into economics. So labour economics was taught by Professor Michael Abbott, and income distribution was taught by Professor Charles Beach,” Card said. 
He added having the two professors helped pave his way from Queen’s to Princeton. 
“Oftentimes people say something confidently, ‘economists all know X.’ In actuality, very rarely is this true. [...] It’s worth re-investigating and understanding more deeply some concepts that exist out there,” Card said.

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