John List has done pioneering work in field experiments in economics in which he developed scientific methods for testing economic theory directly in the marketplace. He received the Kenneth Galbraith Award in 2010 and also the 2008 Arrow Prize for Senior Economists for his research on Behavioral Economics in the field.
To obtain data for his field experiments, he has made use of several different markets, including charitable fundraising activities, the Chicago Board of Trade, Costa Rican CEOs, the new automobile market, sports memorabilia markets, coin markets, auto repair markets, open air markets located throughout the globe, various venues on the internet, several auction settings, shopping malls, various labor markets, and elementary and high schools. His work has provided insight on issues such as pricing behavior, market structure, the valuation of non-marketed goods and services, the impact of environmental regulation, the economics of charitable giving and the impact of incentives on education and weight loss.
List and Uri Gneezy, professor at the University of California, San Diego, applied experimental tools to everything from workplace inequality to the pricing of wine in a 2013 book, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. In the book, they write that handicapped people face hidden surcharges in the marketplace, that encouraging women to negotiate for salaries can reduce gender inequality, and that bias can derail even the simple act of giving directions.
Recently, List has been involved in creating an experimental laboratory with Chicago economist Steven Levitt and Harvard economist Roland Fryer, and funded generously by Chicago philanthropists Kenneth and Anne Griffin, in establishing the Griffin Early Childhood Center. This program was created to try to understand how to best foster development during the early years of a child’s life and how to place children on a successful path. This preschool project uses financial incentives to boost student performance and will be part of a long-term effort to learn more about improving school achievement among disadvantaged students.
Additionally, List continues to be active in the field of environmental economics with recent field experiments on environmental technology adoption.
He was a senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2002–03, when he worked on multinational market institutions to address climate change.
He is the editor of Journal of Economic Perspectives, and the associate editor of American Economic Review and Journal of Economic Literature.