Former International Monetary Fund chief economist Simon Johnson will lecture tonight at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall.

James Wolfensohn

UCSB’s Arts & Lectures series on the 2008 financial crisis kicked off last night with a presentation by former World Bank president James Wolfensohn. The series will continue until May and will spotlight various experts on the issue, such as international economist Dambisa Moyo — one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009 — on Feb. 20, scandal-ridden financier Michael Milken on March 6 and Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen on April 25.

New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Stewart will deliver the final presentations of the series on May 5 and May 25, respectively.

UCSB economics professor Jon Sonstelie said he encourages his students to attend Johnson’s lecture tonight to gain a better understanding of the causes of the recent economic recession.

“[Johnson] has a good perspective on the international aspects of the economic crisis,” Sonstelie said. “It was a crisis that originated with housing market loans and involved sophisticated financial instruments.”

Arts & Lectures Associate Director Roman Baratiak said the lectures were organized in response to students’ growing demand for answers about the international fiscal crisis.

“Students and community folks in general expressed a real misunderstanding of what happened,” Baratiak said. “We wanted to get prominent people [to speak], many of whom have written recent books on the issue. Some have worked at major international financial systems.”

Baratiak said Moyo’s upcoming presentation will address problems that accompany delivering aid to countries with emerging economies such as those in less developed regions of Africa.

“[Moyo] is critical of these big international organizations who pump aid into the developing world and nothing happens,” Baratiak said. “Often it goes to assist the companies that manufacture the things that come from the developing world.”

Economics graduate student Julian Neira said the series will provide excellent insight into the complexity of the crisis and its implications for the future.

“The quality of the speakers is very high,” Neira said. “These people are the ones who have a lot of influence in the economic community. It is an exciting time to learn economics in that a lot of what we are learning is being seen. Understanding current events gives students a greater perspective.”