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How I Made It: Richard Green, director of USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate

June 26, 2011|By Alejandro Lazo, Los Angeles Times
  • "A lot of my work has been about trying to figure out how people behave," says Richard Green, head of USCs Lusk Center for Real Estate.
"A lot of my work has been about trying to figure out how people behave,"… (USC Lusk Center )

The gig: Richard Green, 52, is the director of USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate, a research and academic program based at the university's Marshall School of Business and the school of policy, planning and development. Green, who is also a professor, is widely quoted on housing issues in the national media, and his book "A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy," with Stephen Malpezzi, is used at universities throughout the country.

A political upbringing: When he was growing up in Wisconsin, "my parents were really big on the social consciousness stuff. When I was a kid, we had campaigners for the '68 McCarthy campaign in our basement.... These were volunteers from all over the place who would come to Wisconsin to campaign for [Eugene] McCarthy against LBJ, so they would sleep over and my mother would feed them gobs and gobs of spaghetti."

The nerdy kid: At Harvard, "I took an introduction-to-economics course so that I could read the newspaper more intelligently. Like a lot of people, my impression of economics was incorrect: I thought I could understand the stock market better or that I would understand what bond traders did, all of the things I read about in the Wall Street Journal. I was the sort of nerdy kid that read the Wall Street Journal growing up." Green ended up majoring in economics.

Economics as a tool kit: "I volunteered for George McGovern's campaign when I was 12. So it was a very political family, into social justice kind of stuff, and I wanted to understand that better. I thought economics would give me a tool kit for understanding these issues better. And I think to some extent it did. And in other respects it disappointed me enormously."

The irrationality of humans: "What disappoints me is I think there are people in economics who really believe they have firm answers to questions. There is an arrogance in the field that I think is inappropriate.... As a way to describe the world it has a very long way to go. It is a stereotype, the idea that human beings are rational and they always make decisions that are in their best interests. I think reality is far removed from that assumption, and yet that assumption is a foundation for people's belief in the ability of economics to describe the way the world works."

Housing: Green wrote his doctoral dissertation on international trade at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, advised by Robert E. Baldwin, one of the all-time giants in the field. He thought trade would be his field until the need for some income led him to apply for a job at the Wisconsin Realtors Assn. "There was a job as a research director at the state Realtors Assn. of Wisconsin. I sent the guy a letter, telling him I don't know anything about real estate, but I can do research." After the job with the real estate group, he taught real estate and economics courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then took a job at Freddie Mac as the director of financial strategy and policy analysis. He next worked as a visiting professor of real estate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and then headed back to Washington as the chair of real estate finance at the George Washington University School of Business before being recruited by USC.

Home economics: "A lot of my work has been about trying to figure out how people behave, observing humans via data, and how they actually behave, rather than how economics dictates they should behave." An example: "Why don't people walk away from their mortgages more often? I think people feel some obligation once they have agreed to do something."

Musical interlude: "I love my life, I love my job, but when people have fantasies — if I would have been good enough I would have become a musician for a living.... Apparently, I started loving music when I was 2; I would pick out, by the color of the albums, what was Bach and what was Mozart."

"I played music. I actually spent a couple of summers at Interlochen [Center for the Arts in Michigan]. And it turns out a lot of players in major orchestras ended up going to Interlochen at some point. I played piano and I liked playing with other people, accompanying them, chamber music, accompanying singers. I played the piano for a school choir, that kind of stuff. I really enjoyed that, and I made a little money."

On his current job: "This is it for me. I love the school, I love the city, I don't see any reason why I would go anywhere else."

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