Dr. Simone Dietrich, who is Assistant Professor of Political Science and also holds an appointment at the Truman School of Public Affairs, studies a broad range of political subjects with a particular interest in international aid allocation and effectiveness. Her field work in international development across the world informs her development of data-oriented inquiries into the political and economic mechanisms of international aid. “Academics don’t explain trees—we explain forests,” she tells us, and in her main projects, she combines many different pieces of data to develop a clear picture of larger trends in the politics of international aid.
Nothing will get a labor economist’s mental gears turning like the word “shortage.” At the very utterance of this term, Michael Podgursky’s ears perk up, his eyebrow rises, and he leans over his desk: “What do you mean by shortages?” It’s not that Podgursky isn’t accustomed to hearing the word—quite the contrary, actually. As a professor of Economics at MU, his query results from extensive research on education, a field that has fallen victim on numerous occasions to accusations of “shortages.”
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
For two decades Robert E. Weems, Jr. has been studying interrelated aspects of African-American business and economic history at levels both local and national. The MU professor of History observes that the history of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, with its once-thriving black business district, stands as a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” he notes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Weems’ first book, Black Business in Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985 (1996), based on his dissertation research, explored the factors underlying this change. The history of this now-defunct black insurance company in Chicago has implications for the economics of race in America in general.
In this video Dr. Dietrich describes a popular lesson she teaches to undergraduate students that traces the global life-cycle of a cotton t-shirt. Through examining this simple item—from production, to initial purchase, and to eventual reuse—Dr. Dietrich is able to show her students how politics interact with economics, how comparative advantage impacts international trade, and how charity can have unintended consequences.
Dr. Dietrich is currently working on a paper that examines aid and democracy consolidation in Africa. The goal of this study is to understand what conditions make foreign aid likely facilitate national transitions to democracy, and what conditions can lead to “democratic deepening.”
Before earning her PhD Dr. Dietrich spent time as a development practitioner in Bosnia. She tells us that this experience was important in forming her specific interests in political science. In this video Dr. Dietrich explains one of the major initiatives she observed in Bosnia, and tells us how her observations there have developed into a book project on how government ideologies affect foreign aid decision making.
While Podgursky doesn’t believe there is a shortage of qualified teachers, he does want to see more teachers who have extensive training in areas like math and science. He explains that the certification system acts as a barrier for potential applicants skilled in biological and physical sciences.
When Podgursky returned to MU to teach in 1995, he noticed there wasn’t a course on the economics of education. He immediately created the class and has been teaching it ever since. He also enjoys educating students from all majors on the basics of economics and oversees the Economics Capstone.
Podgursky’s research aims to reform the single-salary schedule that provides salary increments according to a teacher’s years of experience as well as the number of college units and degrees earned. ““The whole compensation package for teachers, educators, and principals needs rethinking and needs to be thought about in a strategic way,” he says. “I think economics can help in thinking about the incentives, the structures, and efficient compensation design.”
As an undergraduate at MU during the Vietnam War, Podgursky studied political science. He found economics courses to be intellectually satisfying and pursued studies in labor economics during graduate school.
K-12 education is an important area of concern for the United States. According to Podgursky, the country hasn’t been faring well in terms of international test scores. Research shows that countries with higher levels of scores grow faster, and that students who score higher earn more money than those with lower scores.
Recently, school districts and states have started collecting large data sets about students and teachers. Podgursky compares this tremendous treasure-trove of data to a candy shop for economists. These longitudinal data systems are important, because by analyzing student growth and achievement he can also determine the productivity rates of individual teachers.
Barker takes us into the Museum of Art and Archaeology, heading immediately to a Mayan vessel that dates from sometime between about 600 to 900 CE. He is confident about the vessel’s authenticity because of the glyphic inscription across its lip describing the fruity cacao that the vessel’s owner would be drinking. The Mayan glyphic code was not broken until after the vessel was accepted and accessioned into the museum’s collection, he explains, and only because of subsequent scholarship are they able to read the inscription. That the vessel was created for cacao—chocolate—is also interesting, for cacao was one of the most important economic resources, along with salt, circulating as valuables in complex societies in Mesoamerica, even though cacao is not native to the region but to areas further south.
Almost all of Barker’s field research in Romania focuses on a single broad question: how does society go from the sovereign individual to the individual sovereign?
Barker is trying to understand the relationship between that process and the economics underlying those societies, seeking answers to questions about the economic basis of political change, and the development of economic mechanisms like taxation and charity relief, as well as why people would be willing to forsake their rights as autonomous individuals for more autocratic control by some kind of hierarchy. Barker surmises that individuals must have somehow perceived themselves as benefiting from the change.
Auctions have grown in importance as a way of trading a variety of goods, but more recently as mechanism of trade for real estate. Current research shows that sellers have the potential to gain higher revenues through auctions than through private negotiations, and bidders may manipulate different auctioning systems to their advantage. This research project will investigate the components of how bidders and sellers estimate value to land, how public and private information affect auctions, and how optimal bidding strategies may be constructed. When discussing value of real estate several factors must be accounted for, including location, quality, housing characteristics, and the state of the market.
By examining the economic results of desegregation in the insurance industry, Weems began to notice how corporate America profited as well from the Civil Rights Movement. The result was his second book, Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century (1998)—a comprehensive look at the African-American community as a consumer base in the U.S.
The fate of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, represents a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” Weems observes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Looking at the economic dimension of desegregation reveals a bitter irony that has animated much of Weems’ work. As a result of so-called desegregation, “on one level, we see white companies making great inroads among the African-American consumers,” he explains. “But we don’t see black companies being able to make similar inroads in the mainstream community.” In economic terms, this one-way situation is not true desegregation.