Patrick François

HR-Patrick Francois-9

If you are interested in having an engaging conversation about development issues, look for Patrick François, Professor in the Vancouver School of Economics and a Senior Fellow of the Institutions, Organizations and Growth program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Originally from Australia, Patrick first came to UBC in 1992 to complete his PhD in Economics. Some years later, after having taught in various institutions such as Queen’s University in Kingston, Tilburg University in the Netherlands and the University of Melbourne in Australia, he returned to Vancouver to become a professor. At UBC, he decided to continue his research on development economics, social capital and political economy, as it became more apparent to him that problems in governance were at the heart of development issues. Although Patrick never imagined becoming an economics researcher, he now loves the process of understanding the functioning of the world through an economic lens.

There are two projects that I am currently working on. One is about African dictators and the reasons why autocrats in Africa do what they do, which in many cases is not what they should be doing, or not in line with what the people in the country want them to do. The autocratic form of government has not been very well understood. We know a lot about democracies but most developing countries are in fact not democratic. Hence, it is important to have a better understanding of the autocratic system.

Secondly, I am researching Indian villages and their forms of governance. It is a bit of a different context because it is ostensibly democratic but at the village level, it does not seem to be functioning very well. For development economists, government malfunction is a large issue, which requires further understanding.

It is a wonderful thing. The best job you could ever have. You make a conjecture and then set yourself to explore the different possibilities. You then have various models at the theoretical level that help you to make sense of the problem. And once you have thought over the theories you move on to the empirical level where you can analyze what the data reveals about the conjecture. It is such a great life. I travel around, think about different problems, talk to interesting people, and find some answers.

It was not a very conscious decision. I worked for a little bit before my undergrad and realized that I did not like it, so I decided to go to university. I did not have a great feeling about economics until I got to learn about the different research projects that a few of my economics professors were working on. Undergrad professors can play a significant role in inspiring students to discover the different possibilities this subject has to offer.

I enrolled in engineering but it only took me one day to realize that engineering was not my thing, so I decided to enroll in arts instead. I took classes in political science, philosophy, and psychology because I found them interesting. Initially, I took economics because I wanted to have a better understanding of the world. Moreover, I believed that it would increase my chances of securing a job in the future. Which in hindsight turned out to be true, but for nothing like the reasons I conjectured. However, as I mentioned already, it was not until I met a couple of very good professors that I started to appreciate economics and how it offered a novel way of looking at things. During my undergrad, I was in a car accident that completely changed my perspective on learning and the dedication it requires.

In general, I don´t particularly feel proud of being an economist compared to any other professions out there, except for when I spend time with non-economists in the social sciences. In those moments I say to myself, “Oh my, you do too much ideology!” As economists, we do not really get too hung up on defining what is a moral right or a moral wrong. The work I like takes a more agnostic position on this stuff and then tries to work out what is, in a non-ideological way. Now I’m sure there are lots of biases that end up getting in the way, we’re humans, but we at least have a methodology that tries to steer us away from being driven by them. Ideally we start with a conjecture about what is going on and look for ways to explore it with the data available. We come up with conclusions that may stray very far from our initial conjecture. In fact, as a profession we really do not put a lot of weight on the conclusion. Instead we value how the research is done, its design, and its implementation. That to me is what you should do. It is kind of what sciences do.

The active process of research: when I can just think about something for the whole day and come up with solutions it is extremely satisfying. I also get a lot of satisfaction from getting undergrad students to be interested in economics. I love when students understand what economics is all about and they go, “Wow! This is cool!” In fact, I think I am going to try to teach more undergrad courses from now onwards.

In one word, squash. If I lose I cannot sleep. It is a pathetic overreaction but I simply hate losing.