Profile: B. Curtis Eaton

After graduating with a BA and a PhD in economics from the University of Colorado, Curtis Eaton contributed to multiple fields, including applied microeconomics, evolutionary economics, applied game theory, industrial organization and labour economics.

Before settling in Kelowna, he taught at four Canadian universities – the University of British Columbia Vancouver (UBCV), the University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary.

He also served as managing editor of the Canadian Journal of Economics, as chair of the Board of Directors of the British Columbia Ferry Corporation, and as president of the Canadian Economics Association.

During his career, he held visiting appointments at three Australian universities (Curtin University, Flinders University and the University of Tasmania), as well as at Queen’s University in Canada, Canterbury University in the United Kingdom, and Yale University and Stanford University in the United States.

His co-authored textbook, Microeconomics: Theory with Applications, has enthralled and challenged generations of students in Economics.

Today, he continues to work on topics in applied microeconomic theory.

Interview with Professor Eaton

Q: UBC, Toronto, SFU, Calgary, Queens, Colorado, Yale, Stanford, Curtin, Flinders, Tasmania, Canterbury. Is there any university you haven’t been affiliated with?

Curtis Eaton: Every university has a distinct identity and focus and they are filled with creative, hardworking people. I have been incredibly lucky to spend time at several of them. For me, there is no better way to keep the intellectual fires burning.

Q: Did you enjoy your time as a university student? What made you want to become a professor?

Curtis Eaton: These look like separate questions. But to me they are the same. Being a prof is a lot like being a student. When I went off to the University of Colorado from a small town in western Colorado, I had no idea what I wanted to study, or what my path in life would be. I enjoyed the place so much that within weeks I knew I wanted to be a professor of something, and within a couple of years I had settled on economics. I have never looked back.

For a guy like me, university life is ideal. There are always young, creative, bright, dedicated people to interact with. I especially like the first couple of months of the fall term, when universities pulse with energy and potential.

Q: Why were you appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada?

Curtis Eaton: When I was learning economics, there was a vision in economics of what is called perfect competition. No entity has significant economic power. No one earns profit. Everyone is paid an amount that is equal to the value of what they produce. That vision seemed like baloney to me, given what I had seen in the small town I grew up in. Over a period of 15 years I developed, in collaboration with Richard Lipsey, an alternative view that emphasized the ubiquity of pockets of monopolistic power. The first book in the bibliography at the end of this interview is all about that vision.

Q: What research projects are you working on currently?

Curtis Eaton: There are an exceptionally large number of deterrence schemes that are designed to control antisocial behavior. We tell our students that cheating on exams is verboten, we threaten them with expulsion if they are caught cheating, and we monitor exams to catch cheaters. We establish speed limits, we threaten to fine violators, and we deploy police with cameras to catch speeders. The intention is not to catch cheaters or speeders, it is to deter them from cheating or speeding. There is a well-established, static theory of deterrence.

In my current work with Ken Carlaw and Cliff Bekar, we show that deterrence is an inherently dynamic undertaking, not a static problem. To our delight and amazement, in the extensive literature on deterrence, there is no dynamic analysis. None! We are nearly finished with this project on dynamic deterrence, and we have uncovered some extremely exciting stuff. I have not worked before on anything as novel and potentially important as this.

Q: If you were doing it all over again, do you think UBCO would be a good place to study?

Curtis Eaton: I have taught undergraduates at four of Canada’s big universities. For the right kind of student, universities like Toronto are wonderful places to do undergraduate work. But for many, they are not. My daughter got her BA at a much smaller school. Watching her, I came to appreciate the many advantages that smaller places offer undergraduates. And just this week I had a talk with my granddaughter about university, and I urged her to consider smaller schools.

For most students, smaller places like UBCO and Mount Allision and Dalhousie are much better. You get more personal attention. You have more opportunities to engage in research. You get exposure to a wider range of ideas. Most importantly, you come away from your undergraduate education with a sense that you have something important to offer.

I am especially high on UBCO’s PPE program – Philosophy, Political Science and Economics are the heart and soul of social science.

Q: Do you have any advice for students who are attending UBCO today?

Curtis Eaton: Don’t forget to go to the gym, or the swimming pool, especially during exam week.

  1. Curtis Eaton and Richard, G. Lipsey, On The Foundations of Monopolistic Competition and Economic Geography: The Selected Essays of B. Curtis Eaton and Richard G. Lipsey Edward, (Elgar Press, 1997)
  2. Curtis Eaton, Applied Microeconomic Theory: Selected Essays of B. Curtis Eaton (Edward Elgar Press, 2002)
  3. Curtis Eaton, Diane Eaton and Douglas Allen, Microeconomics: Theory with Applications, (8th Edition, Prentice Hall, 2011)

Submitted by Professor Andrew Irvine, August 2021