Mukesh Eswaran is a Professor at the Vancouver School of Economics, a Senior Fellow of the Bureau of Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), and an Associate of Theoretical Research in Economic Development (ThReD). Interestingly, he discovered his passion for economics after finishing a doctoral degree in physics, which led him to pursue a PhD in this field at UBC. Since then he has been actively doing research in several subfields of economics, mostly economic development, the economics of gender, and evolutionary economics. He recently wrote a textbook entitled “Why Gender Matters in Economics”, published by Princeton University Press in 2014, for one of the undergrad courses that he teaches at UBC. After being unable to find a text that comprehensively treated the core issues relevant to women and their role in the economy, he set about writing one himself. In his research, Mukesh seeks to theoretically understand the mechanisms responsible for various phenomena in the social sciences.
I am currently working on two projects, with Hugh Neary and Nancy Gallini respectively. The one with Hugh has to do with how competing groups of people allocate goods that are considered sacred, like land for example. How do we resolve issues regarding ownership of a good that is considered sacred by contending parties? This problem is usually very difficult to resolve, and disputes can go on for years or even decades. Some have proposed monetary compensations are important in the resolution. However, there is evidence to show that the offer of such compensation is deemed very offensive by the party that is supposed to be the recipient. People tend not to mix sacred goods with secular goods. Others have suggested that if a group sacrifices a good or core value that is sacred to it, this action can elicit a similar sacrifice by the other group and this may lead to a resolution of the dispute. In this project we are examining whether there is indeed a potential resolution in this possibility and, if so, under what conditions.
The project with Nancy has to do with antibiotics. There is a looming crisis in the world today regarding the declining effectiveness of antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics has led to a reduction in their effectiveness because bacteria evolve resistance to the drug. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are not producing new antibiotics fast enough. We are trying to understand why this is the case and how economics can contribute to the debate about what needs to be urgently done.
Since I do mostly what is called Applied Theory, for me it means asking oneself the why things are the way they are. Research is also about trying to find answers to some of the economic problems we see around us and proposing appropriate policies.
I was actually in physics before I became interested in economics. One semester I took a course of economics and I found it fascinating. It was extremely satisfying to make sense of the world through economic analysis. So I decided to do a masters degree in economics and then went on to do doctoral work, too. Although I already had the mathematical skills, I had to learn economic concepts from scratch. However, I do not in the least regret switching to economics.
I always thought I would be a teacher or a researcher but I did not realize it would be in economics. I thought it would be in physics.
There are two aspects, really. One is teaching young people. Every year there is a new crop of students. I might be getting older but the students in a course are not. The other aspect I enjoy is that I have the freedom to work without constraints on research topics that interest me the most.