Robert M. Townsend

Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robert M. Townsend is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics at MIT. Prior to that, Townsend was the Charles E. Merriam Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, where he remains a Research Associate. In addition to these roles, he is a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and The Econometric Society.

Townsend is an American economist whose recent work focuses on analyzing the role and contributions of financial systems on developing economies by studying applied dynamic general equilibrium models and contract theory. His contributions in economic theory include the role of financial intermediaries in general equilibrium Arrow-Debreu models, the revelation principle, the costly state verification approach, optimal multi-period contracts, decentralization of economies with private information, money with spatially separated agents, financial institutions and economic growth, and forecasting the forecasts of others. His contributions in econometrics include the study of risk and insurance in developing countries, and his work on village India was awarded the Frisch Medal in 1998.

Since 1997, Townsend has undertaken large scale village surveys in Thailand to analyze the interaction between household decisions and community behavior at different levels of aggregation including families, villages, regions, and country-wide. The Townsend Thai study was the first of its kind and has been the stepping stone for many other applied and theoretical projects in economic development and contract theory. Townsend's work has demonstrated innovation in the combination of theory and data, as well as the ability to work across various sub-fields.

Townsend leads several grants related to his research interests. He serves as Principal Investigator and Faculty Director of the Consortium on Financial Systems and Poverty, a program supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring together scholars to work on research projects to better understand the role of financial services in the developing world. As Principal Investigator and Project Director of the Enterprise Initiative, he explores entrepreneurship and wealth creation through the lens of Applied General Equilibrium Enterprise Economics (AGE-3).