Benjamin Polak, who has been named the first William C. Brainard Professor of Economics, is an expert on decision theory, game theory and economic history.
The professorship was established by friends and colleagues of Yale economist William C. Brainard under the leadership of David F. Swensen, the University's chief investment officer, an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management and a lecturer in economics. (See related story).
Polak's work explores economic models and research at the intersection of economics and history. His work on game theory ranges from foundational theoretical work on common knowledge to applied topics in corporate finance and law and economics. Past research topics have included the emergence of a capital market in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, property transactions in Ireland from the early 18th century to modern times, and past correlations between poverty, policy and industrialization.
Most recently, he has made contributions to the theory of repeated games with asymmetric information. Other research interests include economic inequality and individuals' responses to uncertainty. He is currently engaged in an empirical project that examines questions of industrial organization in the setting of industrial revolution in England.
Polak teaches a highly popular game theory class at Yale, and he has been honored with three major University teaching prizes: Yale College's Lex Hixon '63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences (2006), the Department of Economics' Graduate Teaching Prize (2005) and the William Clyde DeVane Medal for undergraduate teaching and scholarship at Yale College (2005). At the DeVane Medal awards ceremony, then-undergraduate Anthony Xu '06 described his professor by saying that his "wide learning, his brilliantly lucid and imaginative lectures, his good humor and his approachableness" had made him "something of a Guru" on campus.
A graduate of Cambridge University in England, Polak earned his M.A. at Northwestern University and his Ph.D. at Harvard University. He joined the Yale faculty in 1994 and has affiliations with the economics department, the Cowles Foundation, the School of Management and the Law School. Before coming to Yale, he was a visiting professor at the New Economic School in Moscow. He has also held visiting appointments at the Australian National University, the London School of Economics, New York University and the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Polak is a referee for numerous academic journals and serves on the editorial boards of the B.E. Journals in Theoretical Economics and the Journal of Economic Theory.