Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mauricio chose economics over other sciences or humanities because it allowed him to combine ‘the best of both worlds’. After finishing his PhD at Northwestern University in Evanston, he joined the economics faculty at UBC and moved to Vancouver, the kind of city he had always wanted to live in. At the Vancouver School of Economics he has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, from ‘Understanding Globalization’ to a reading seminar on Thomas Piketty’s most recent publication ‘Capital in the 21st century’, and researching on the economic history of Early Modern Spain. He recently published a book with Hans-Joachim Voth on Spain’s financial crises under King Philip II , ‘Lending to the Borrower from Hell’, and he is now unearthing the mysteries of the Spanish inquisition. As an academic researcher, a profession Mauricio chose due to his love for teaching and learning, he emphasizes the importance of open-mindedness during the process of exploration.
Right now I am leading a very large project on the nature and the long-term consequences of the Spanish Inquisition, a powerful institution that purported to control the moral and private lives of citizens. Since I have spent the last 15 years researching the economic history of Early Modern Spain, my current project is a very natural consequence of that. We are trying to understand what the Inquisition was about from a quantitative and economic point of view. There is a gigantic amount of literature on the history and the cultural and social aspects of the Inquisition but a lot less is known about its real magnitude and its impact on economic and social outcomes. We will be closely looking at places where inquisitorial presence was more intense, and examine whether we observe more religious or conservative attitudes, different political biases, people’s trust towards strangers, as well as openness to different cultures in these identified regions today.
Philip II ruled over Spain at the point where it was the largest empire that the world had ever seen, only the second largest in all of history. From a financial standpoint what is truly shocking about Philip’s mandate is that it managed to string together four sovereign debt defaults, and yet people kept on lending to him.
Research is about the magic of discovery and serendipity. When I go into an archive to find primary sources I usually go with an idea of what I am going to do or what I should be looking for. Even though I do not always find what I am looking for, new things catch my eye and this creates new possibilities. To be a researcher you have to have an open mind, and be aware of what has been done and also what is missing. You cannot go into research with preconceptions because you are very likely to get a smack on the face. You need to be open to the possibility of different options. Additionally, you must learn to switch tracks quickly in order to follow the direction in which your data are taking you.
I always loved the academic environment. I was first drawn to academia because of the teaching aspect of it. It was only when I started working as a research assistant for professors that I began to appreciate the discovery component of academia. During my Masters it became clear to me that I wanted to ask tough novel questions and work with primary source material. I was particularly curious about the intersection between history and economics.
My previous background was in economics. The history part of my work is essentially self-taught. This brings about some challenges because when you try to publish in economic history your work is going to be reviewed by both historians and economists. Although I speak the language of economists, learning the language of historians has been a very long and tough experience.
My high school education was very classical in a way, something I actually liked a lot, filled with literature, history and philosophy. I wanted humanities to be a part of my life but at the same time I very much enjoyed mathematics and physics. So when I was first exposed to economics, it felt like an epiphany. I found a discipline that could help me understand the world taking elements from all the academic areas I enjoyed. It was a science in the sense that it was rigorous, logical and there was empirical evidence. At the same time, it left room for broader questions such as ‘What do people value? How do they behave? What is the role of history in explaining economic outcomes?’
I absolutely love the interaction with students. In lower year courses I like the idea of opening the students’ eyes to the marvels of economics. Seeing that spark in their eyes for the first time when they go ‘Oh, I get it!’ really makes my day. In upper level courses I enjoy introducing students to deep critical thinking using the tools they have acquired in foundational courses. I also like to challenge their preconceptions. This I can do best when I treat them as colleagues, being amongst them rather than above them. Indeed, I really enjoy every part of teaching.