Rice Economics Fall 2019 Newsletter - Page 2

Meet Our New/Returning Department Chair   Dr. George Zodrow, Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Economics Research Interests: Tax Reform in the U.S. and Developing Countries, State and Local Public Finance, and Computable General Equilibrium Modeling of the Effects of Tax Reforms George Zodrow holds the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Chair of Economics and is a Faculty Scholar at the Center for Public Finance in the Baker Institute for Public Policy. He also holds an appointment as an International Research Fellow at the Centre on Business Taxation at Oxford University. He is the recipient of the 2009 Steven D. Gold Award, presented by the National Tax Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, to recognize significant contributions to state and local fiscal policy and a capacity to cross the boundaries between academic research and public policy making. You are once again taking on the role of Economics Department Chair, a position you also held from 1995-2000. What plans do you have for the department over the next few years? My main goal is to continue the excellent progress we have made in the last five years under the Rice Initiative for the Study of Economics or RISE, a five-year program led by former Economics Department Chair and Social Sciences Dean Antonio Merlo, that significantly enhanced both teaching and research in economics at Rice. In particular, we are hiring two new assistant professors this year who I hope will continue to raise the international research profile of the Department. I also plan to focus on continuing to improve both our undergraduate and graduate programs, which were restructured in 2015. Tell me about your involvement in tax reform projects in various world governments. How do you bridge the world of research and policy? I have been involved in tax reform projects in numerous countries, ranging, as I used to tell my daughters, from Aruba to Zambia. The projects are fascinating, and involve a complex combination of explaining theories of desirable features of tax systems as well as how those theories have successfully been applied in practice around the world to government officials, always taking into account the special characteristics and preferences of the country involved. And some of tax policy consulting simply involves attempting to ensure that countries avoid enacting bad policies, often referred to as tax “deforms.” As a Rice alumnus who majored in Mechanical Engineering and Economics, you were an undergraduate in the department you’re now leading. What has changed over the years? What’s stayed the same? As in all programs in Economics, our majors have become more rigorous from a mathematical standpoint – especially our major in Mathematical Economic Analysis, which was not part of the curriculum when I was an undergrad – and have a more comprehensive empirical component. We have a larger and more accomplished faculty, lots of new courses, and a more vibrant graduate program. But one of my favorite memories of my days as a Rice undergrad was when I was having a hard time with a concept in intermediate microeconomics and visited my professor, who re-explained it to me. I still really didn’t get it, but I said thanks and was getting up to leave when he looked at me quizzically and more or less said, “You’re still clueless, aren’t you?” I unenthusiastically admitted that I was, and he proceeded to go over it again until I had it down pat. I believe that our current instructors still exhibit that kind of perceptiveness and commitment to educating our students that makes Rice the fabulous educational institution that it is today and was back then. What makes tax policy a compelling area of research for you? What new areas of research excite you? I have been fascinated by tax policy since my years as a Rice undergraduate. Modern economics is basically the analysis of decision making under constraints, and taxation affects all of those decisions, for individuals and businesses not to mention governments, in many complex ways that are still not fully understood but extremely interesting to investigate. One critical issue is the implementation of carbon taxes as a method of addressing the problem of climate change. In that area, John Diamond and I are currently working on modeling how carbon taxes can be designed to significantly reduce carbon emissions while minimizing deleterious effects on economic growth and the distribution of income. In your time at Rice, you’ve mentored many students as research assistants. What’s your advice to undergraduates early in their careers at Rice who want to prepare themselves to undertake undergraduate research? The best thing to do is to start early – take all the math, statistics and economics core courses as soon as you can so that you have the skills to participate in a research project fairly early in your career at Rice. But beyond that, find a professor or two whose research interests you, take their upper level courses, get to know them, and then talk to them about their research and what role you might be able to play in it. It can be a very rewarding experience – for both the student and the professor. And the best research assistant is someone like you, Biz, who has great math skills and economic intuition – but also can write clearly, cogently and concisely! 2