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Being ranked among the world’s most influential economists is an honor that BU’s Laurence Kotlikoff welcomes. And doubts.

“Janet Yellen is much more influential than anybody right now,” says Kotlikoff, who clocked in at number 19 on the Economist magazine’s top-25 list. Yet the Federal Reserve chairwoman (and Kotlikoff’s former professor) was not on the list, which deliberately excluded current central bankers, perhaps because the magazine felt they’d have a leg up based on its criteria: the number of quotes in media, social media, and blogs during the 90 days ending December 11, 2014.

A 30-year BU veteran, Kotlikoff is a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of economics. He says it’s unlikely that he would have put himself on the list, but he’s glad that the Economist did. He joins powerhouses like Nobel winner Paul Krugman (#3), ex–Fed chairs Ben Bernanke (#5) and Alan Greenspan (#9) (former central bankers were recognized), and best-selling Capital in the Twenty-First Century author Thomas Piketty (#13). He’s also pleased that the honor reflects well on BU, which is “a great kind of Horatio Alger story,” he says. “It’s kind of pulled itself up by its bootstraps” and now boasts a world-class economics department.

During the time frame studied by the Economist, Kotlikoff’s media utterances included a debate with Piketty; his regular column for PBS NewsHour; and a radio interview (along with Ralph Nader) on the question “Is Capitalism Working?”

Critics pounced on the Economist’s list, noting that while omitting Yellen—and all other women—it did not exclude presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks. The magazine also admitted that the economist rated number one, MIT’s Jonathan Gruber, wouldn’t have cracked the rankings had it not been for all the media attention given last fall to his public blunder about Obamacare. (An architect of the health reform law, Gruber said “the stupidity of the American voter” helped pass it.) “That isn’t influence—that’s a gaffe,” objected a writer for the website FiveThirtyEight.

Kotlikoff’s research interests include public finance and accounting, health care, and banking. “I’m like a lot of economists. I work on a whole range of fields,” he says. “Academically, I try and work on big issues. Like, I’ve written a paper about robots” with economists from other schools.

Less known to professional colleagues, he says, is his interest in personal finance. He has a financial planning software company, and his coauthored book Get What’s Yours, published this month, is about maximizing Social Security benefits—“which seems like it should be straightforward, but it’s incredibly complicated.”

The New York Times once dubbed Kotlikoff a “liberal economist,” a description he shuns. “The Republicans think I’m a Democrat; the Democrats think I’m a Republican. I’m apolitical. I think that politicians are, in general, lower life-forms.” He advised former US senator Mike Gravel, who unsuccessfully sought both the Democratic and Libertarian presidential nominations in 2008, and he does cop to a friendly relationship with former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Kotlikoff himself launched a short-lived independent run for president in 2012. His platform of “Purple Plans,” so called because he thought they’d appeal to red and blue states, included new, progressive consumption and inheritance taxes, a voucher-based health care system, and a mandatory private-savings system for future retirees.

The crescent-shaped desk in Kotlikoff’s office spans four windows with a great view of the Charles River, and its corner is littered with photos of the economist hugging and playing with his two sons as young boys (they’re now 24 and 17). Did he tell them when he made the Economist’s list?

His answer reflects either modesty or a list skeptic’s bemusement: “I think I might have spared them this one.”