That’s a big question! Most of my current research is on wage structures; how the wage structure is set, how that relates to employment, and a lot of that ultimately comes out of an interest in policy. I am interested in the question of how policy can be used to construct a more just society, and constructing a better labour market is one form of building this society.
On a personal level, it means that I come to work everyday and do something that is exciting and interesting. I am constantly learning from people around me, and I get to set my own agenda and work on what I love. On a broader scope, the hope is that what I do is actually useful to someone building policy; or, on a deeper level, allows others to understand how economies function, which would then help build policy.
Well, my father was an economic historian at Queen’s University, so I grew up in that atmosphere of academia and economics. I originally wanted to be a historian, but then one summer, I got a job as a research assistant for Helmut Binhammer, who had written one of the big monetary textbooks at the time. He needed someone to revise his textbook, but he also had a contract with the Ontario Credit Union to look into the organization. He looked into the data a few weeks prior to meeting them in Toronto, and realized that a bunch of these credit unions were in big trouble. If he had released this information to the public, it would have led to some serious consequences and there could have been bank runs on these unions as well. But he acted responsibly, showed them the data, told them what the problem was, and gave them solutions. That was when I saw that economics was about taking research and using it to create policies that acted for the social good, and that was when I realized I wanted to study economics.
I found economics to be a subject that had a lot of intellectual content and interesting debates, but also something that had real life relevance, in influencing policy. And the actual rigour of the subject attracted me, because some parts of the social sciences do not have that same level of rigour, so it was this combination that enticed me.
If I had to choose one, it would be interacting with students at all levels. With undergraduates, I enjoy talking to the ones that are engaged and interested. And often you learn from them as well, especially because they aren’t burdened with this anxiety of influence from what they’ve learned. With the graduate students, it’s enjoyable to work with the people who are fully committed to economics. The other part of it is research; sometimes, I get to do research for the whole day, and those are just great days, I love it!
I really like the outdoors, and my wife and I go snowshoeing in the winter, and go hiking often. I do a bit of music as well, and I play the banjo and the guitar, but our two kids are much better at music, and they let me play with them sometimes! Other than that, I enjoy reading, especially reading outside of economics.
When I was younger, Keynes loomed large in economics, and really influenced me. He engaged with both sides of economics, and made those deep, intellectual contributions, and influenced public policy to a great degree. Another economist would be Adam Smith, and one book I would recommend is ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, which grapples with the wider issues surrounding ‘The Wealth of Nations”. Other than that, I would say that everyone I work with at the VSE have been strong influences - there are very smart people here.
It is unfortunately easy to lose sight of the bigger picture as you go deeper and deeper into economics, and forget about the big issues and ideas that got you into the subject. But I think I would tell students to step back from time to time, and really question and address these big issues and ideas, because these are the questions that have a real effect on the world. Something else I would recommend is reading and engaging outside the world of economics. Economics studies people, so it’s good to read and learn as much as you can about how society and people function. In fact, I often give my graduate students close to graduating a copy of “War and Peace” for this very reason! Reading about and understanding the world allows you to bring in humanity and compassion into the study of economics, which I find is very important.