Economics Department

Jeffrey A. Parker

George Hay Professor of Economics

Things I Wonder About

From time to time, students inquire whether I have any suggestions for thesis topics. From time to time, I get ideas about things that might be interesting for a student to explore. This page attempts to match the supply of sometimes-weird Jeff-related thesis topics with any demand that may be out there. I must warn you that some of these are top-of-the-head thoughts that I haven't researched at all. There may be a large literature out there that I'm unaware of.

Inflation in Argentina/Brazil/Ecuador/Israel/... Modern monetary theory makes much of the effects of monetary institutions (such as various aspects of central bank independence) on economic outcomes. Much ink has been spilled looking at the Latin American and Israeli inflations of the post-war period. How did institutions in these countries (you'd only do one) evolve in response to inflation and how did inflation change in response to changes in institutions?

Reed (and other colleges) in the Great Depression. The economics of higher education were very different in the 1920s than now, but the onset of the Great Depression must have had profound effects on the economic situation of colleges. How did Reed and other institutions change in response? This project would likely involve archival work in the Reed Library and perhaps in the archives of other colleges and universities.

Taxes in Portland and Vancouver, WA. Oregon has a high state income tax but no sales tax; Washington has the opposite. As earlier thesis examined the effects on the retail markets in Portland and Vancouver of the sales-tax differential. What about the income-tax differential? You have to pay Oregon income tax on money earned in Oregon even if you live in Washington. But unearned income (pensions, investment earnings, self-employed earnings, etc.) would not be subject to state tax in you live in Washington. Do people with large amounts of unearned income live in Vancouver rather than Oregon?

Small towns. Having grown up in a small town, I've always been interested in the factors that contribute to the growth or decay of small communities. What are the determinants of decadal changes in the population and income of small towns? How do economic conditions in large cities affect the surrounding agricultural regions? Are Michigan farm towns suffering because of Detroit's economic decline?

Cross-college peer effects. The most difficult aspect of peer effects to measure are the most important: the differences across colleges due to the quality and attitude of the student body. Because Reedies are Reedies, we can teach intermediate micro to beginners and Romer to all or most econ majors. Yet there is so much else that is unique to any given college that it is virtually impossible to isolate the effects of peers. However, one could, through a survey of some kind, ask faculty members at numerous institutions about their choice of textbooks, subjects covered in courses, the level at which courses are offered, and the kinds of classroom activities that they use, and about how these choices are constrained by the characteristics of the student body. This would provide some subjective evidence about the importance of peer effects in defining the classroom experience across institutions.

Indigenous boundaries, colonial boundaries, strife, and growth. In a more primitive culture where most transportation is by water, groups of indigenous peoples are likely to settle around rivers. In modern cultures, rivers are more of a barrier than a central artery thus colonial powers often used them as borders, presumably splitting indigenous groups and mixing different groups within their borders. Has the modern literature on the effects of colonialism on modern-day institutions and growth ever looked at the degree of fragmentation of indigenous boundaries?

Journal sequence and citations. The "lead article" in a journal issue is often reputed to be the one the editors think is the most important. Are lead articles cited more often than others? Is sequence after the lead article associated with citation frequency?

Why did the economics profession ignore Schumpeter? Joseph Schumpeter worked out the basic idea of dynamic competition in the 1940s, yet his theory of creative destruction has always existed outside of modern microeconomic theory. Why? Why wasn't it until the 1980s that macroeconomists developing new theories of economic growth brought Schumpeter's ideas more into the mainstream.