On George Fox University Week: More data brings opportunities for research.
Nate Peach, associate professor of economics, determines why economics is a good area of study for undergraduates.
Nate Peach, PhD is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Fox University. His research interests include regional economic development, economic pedagogy, and the role of virtues in economic decisions.
Teaching Undergraduates to Measure Economic Development
Gone are the days when researchers had to beg and borrow (but certainly not steal) to get access to data. We live in a world with unprecedented amounts of data. This avalanche of information has opened up opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research in ways that did not exist in the past. For economists, economic development is an especially fruitful area of inquiry. To paraphrase Noble Laureate Robert Lucas, once you begin thinking about economic development, it’s hard to think about anything else. Researching economic development involves wrestling with the ultimate purposes of an economy.
Working with undergraduates on this topic allows them to come to terms with what they think an economy ought to be facilitating in people’s lives. They are forced to evaluate the types of normative questions that economists often shy away from in their work. As students articulate the goals of development they are now in a place, due to data availability, to measure an economy’s progress towards these goals. Their research takes on a life outside the classroom when they realize the tangible nature of economic development. Walking down the street we can see whether businesses are thriving or struggling, whether individuals are healthy or suffering, whether the natural environment is enjoyable or congested and polluted, whether civil society is active or withering. These observations invite reflection on whether the local economy hinders or promotes the good life.
Indices which measure economic development are readily applicable to comparative analysis and policy prescriptions. What are the most developed economies doing well? Why are the least developed economies struggling? What aspects of development need to be addressed in order for people to live fuller lives? By answering these questions students will be responding to Adam Smith’s challenge to all economists, to uncover the nature and causes of the wealth of communities.