It was in Seattle that he first decided to go into economics. "You realized, 'There're not very many economists coming out of our political movement,' and so I thought I could be one of those," he explained.
He studied at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and then at Berkeley before arriving at Columbia, focusing on political economy, economics history and labor economics. His first research paper, which he wrote with Michael Reich and Arin Dube, showed that an increase in the minimum wage did not, as many economists assumed, necessarily lead to an rise in unemployment.
He grew up in Newfoundland, where, he says, dinner occasionally meant moose curry. His parents came from, in his words, "small villages in the middle of nowhere, India." He said his visits to those places made a lasting impression on him.
"You're a 6-year-old and you see your counterpart, who's another 6-year-old, having blond hair from malnutrition," he said. "That will stay with you."
A few days ago, Naidu reflected on his experiences in the anti-globalization movement that emerged from Seattle in 1999. "It was exciting and exhilarating -- and it felt like we were winning," he said. "I think for like two years we were winning -- and I think we did win. Now, as a professional economist, I look back on that and think, ‘Wow, that was a great thing we did -- changing the terms of the debate on free trade and exposing the politics that were underlying what was supposed to be win-win for everybody and in fact might not have been."
"Even now that I'm teaching economics," he continued, "so many of the people that I hang out with, that I associate with, are people that I hung out with in that period."
"And that is what I think will happen with the Occupieds," he said. "Even if the movement goes away, the social networks that have formed will hang around. People will be friends, even if they're no longer camping together in the camps, and when strangers meet in whatever venues, they'll be like, ‘You were there,’ and there will be an immediate rapport. In the long run that will have a big political impact."