For László Sándor research is the ultimate war against ‘fake news’. After completing his PhD in Economics at Harvard, the Hungarian-American national chose a Postdoc position at the Luxembourg School of Finance at the University of Luxembourg, where his work includes big data projects, field experiments in household finance and applied microeconomics.
“Research is good detective work; you just need to be disciplined, rigorous and systematic about it. It is exhilarating to probe data in different ways and find a research design that is cleaner and more convincing when it comes to answering a question. Preferably a question of great importance,” says László Sándor, adding that during his PhD at Harvard University his team got access to American tax records which led to many “blockbuster” studies about intergenerational mobility, equal opportunity, health inequality and public policy.
“Interestingly, tenured faculty seemed to care about public embarrassment more than money”
Having since taken up a Postdoc position in Luxembourg, László also conducts field experiments to gauge, for example, whether people treat financial advice differently if they get it from their bank compared to an independent source.
“An earlier field experiment of mine tested whether referees of an academic journal meet deadlines when you pay them to or when you list turnaround times online — interestingly, tenured faculty seemed to care about public embarrassment more than money,” László explains, adding:
“The big data work is what you need to do on linked Danish registries to analyze whether people went without unemployment insurance when they learned they could rely on easy and cheap second mortgages if they needed to. I am excited about the work we would be able to do now on the entire universe of American deeds (real estate records), or re-analyzing segregation in the U.S. using precisely measured traffic flows from cell phone location records.”
“I expect this place to be a shining beacon of light in Europe if it wants to be”
When asked what attracted him to Luxembourg, László explains that when he completed his PhD, he applied for around 200 jobs: “The Luxembourg School of Finance was one of them, and after interviews and fly-outs, my best offer was from them, so I came to Luxembourg.”
“Academics are very mobile these days, and the international market is extremely competitive, often there is no particular reason why someone goes somewhere other than that place making the most competitive offer.”
“I appreciate the atmosphere of the university, the freedom and time I can devote to research, the funding opportunities, and the lifestyle of the city. Luxembourg often prides itself on using its nimble, agile government to attract activity that is internationally mobile and sensitive to the regulatory environment.
“Academia checks both boxes, and I expect this place to be a shining beacon of light in Europe if it wants to be. The data centers that are springing up in the country or European institutions like Eurostat indeed suggest we could be a hub of big data analysis for the EU, particularly for sensitive, government-collected data.”
László also explains that work by his former PhD advisor, featured on the front page of the New York Times, underlines the future benefits for Luxembourg in attracting researchers to the country:
“Boys are much more likely to be inventors if they grew up around male inventors, girls around female ones. Later life experience does not have the same effect.”
“Experimentation and careful analysis of administrative data is revolutionizing our lives”
As part of his work in Luxembourg, László helps coordinate the LSF Lunch Seminars, a seminar series with FNR RESCOM support featuring international speakers, including many young stars in the data-intensive subfield of household finance. Additionally, László is also involved in a recently funded FNR CORE project, led by Prof Ulf von Lilienfeld-Toal, which looks at the financial aspects of the real estate market.
Long-term, László hopes the projects he works on will have impact, helping people and improving financial services and markets, education and health care policy, tax design, housing and urban development.
“I am utterly convinced that experimentation and careful analysis of administrative data is revolutionizing our lives, it would be great to be a part of this movement. I think business usually takes care of itself, but as social scientists, I naturally care more about society and public policy, and I think we have a long way to go in that regard,” László adds.