Professor Deirdre McCloskey with PhD student Rebecca Mendelsohn.

World-leading economist shares insights

13 December 2013

Sharing your ideas with one of the world’s leading economic thinkers is a rare opportunity for PhD students and early career researchers.

So when Professor Deirdre McCloskey generously made room on December 12 in her packed Australian schedule to share her insights at Crawford School in a private tutorial, economics and policy students seized the opportunity.

Fifteen people presented a very brief overview of their research questions, which varied from aged care for baby boomers, to school education, forestry decentralisation in Vietnam and the impacts of foreign investment policy in Australia on the investment decisions of China.

McCloskey, who is a Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, engaged with each of the research questions with her trademark honesty, suggesting linkages to other research and critiquing new institutionalism and equilibrium.

“The whole world will become developed relatively quickly, within three generations maximum. The opportunity for progress will be just so great, it will overwhelm any obstacles,” McCloskey said.

“We thought about India and China in the 50s and 60s that they were hopeless cases. We said: ‘gee, India’s never going to develop.’ The needed reforms are just too costly. That’s what we all thought.

“Then in China in 1978 and India in 1991 they changed their ideology and started growing like mad, seven per cent per year in India and 10 per cent in China.

“Convergence is inevitable.”

McCloskey also engaged with students researching social issues, such as the impact of mental health issues.

“We’ve all been teenagers and you all know the turbulence. Add to that any mental health issues and you’re in real trouble. If you’re in physical ill health and you’re 16, people say: how sad. If you’re in mental ill health, it’s harder to recover, harder to get treatment. It’s tragic,” she said.

Beyond the specific research advice, McCloskey also offered sage career advice and pointers on creating a good first impression in an academic environment. The advice included always introducing yourself by your full name so the person you’re speaking to can refer to your research later.

Early career researcher Dr Greg Lopez, who completed his PhD at Crawford in July, said the opportunity to share ideas with McCloskey was invaluable.

“I think it’s fantastic to get to meet people of Deidre’s stature, that’s one of the great things about Crawford,” Lopez said.

During her time at The Australian National University, McCloskey also presented a public lecture and met with academics and researchers. She is currently working on her third book in the Bourgeois series.

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