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Today I’m happy to turn back to the Faculty Spotlight feature. Professor Robert Pfaltzgraff is the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Security Studies at The Fletcher School and President of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, a research organization based in Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC. Professor Pfaltzgraff currently teaches International Relations: Theory and Practice and Crisis Management and Complex Emergencies. He also teaches the Security Studies course for Fletcher’s Global Master of Arts Program.
Because Fletcher encompasses the world of the theorist and the policymaker, the scholar and the practitioner, it is an ideal setting to bring the academic into sharper focus with the policy community and vice versa. This is what has always shaped both my teaching at The Fletcher School and my work directly with the policy community as President of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. We learn from the insights, wisdom, and experience of others and from our own successes and failures — from observing and from doing. Both Fletcher and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis have given me great and unique opportunities in both communities to share with students and others.
At Fletcher my teaching spans the Political Systems and Theories and International Security Studies fields. My International Relations Theory course challenges students not only to understand the theories themselves but also to relate them to the world of today. Through the lens of theory we may gain perspectives or ways of understanding, analyzing, and simply thinking about the policy issues and choices of the day, related to fundamentally important topics such as international conflict and cooperation, as well as war and peace.
My teaching in the International Securities Studies field is also designed to bridge theory and practice. My Crisis Management seminar addresses such topics as the twenty-first-century crisis map contrasted with previous eras, including the Cold War, as well as the role of military force and diplomacy, to mention only several of the major topics that we study. There is an extensive literature about crisis escalation, decision-making, strategizing, and lessons learned from past crises that we survey. In addition to team presentations, we conduct an annual weekend crisis simulation that brings together up to 200 outside participants and other members of the Fletcher community. This provides a great opportunity to test and fine-tune what we have (or should have) learned in class about how to manage international crises. Here we have an opportunity to learn on the job, so to speak — to develop skills and ways of thinking that could be useful to the future crisis decision-makers that many of our students will become. In this and other International Securities Studies activities, we draw heavily on practitioners and others from the military and policy communities both from outside Fletcher and our students, who, I should add, bring a rich set of experiences and backgrounds and therefore learn from each other.
There has also been a two-way street, a synergistic relationship, between my work at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and my Fletcher teaching experience. Our many Institute conferences, seminars, and workshops, together with research on such topics as escalation, proliferation, military force structures, strategy, alliance relationships, technological innovation and military affairs, and regional security issues from NATO-Europe to the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific area have given me a wealth of information, insights, and greater understanding to share with my classes and others in the academic and policy communities. By the same token, I have always learned much from my students, many of whom have achieved positions of senior political and military leadership in the United States and abroad.
My bottom line is that I know of no better educational setting than Fletcher in which to bring together the worlds of theory and practice — to learn how to think and to act, understanding of course that creative thought is the necessary prerequisite to successful action in and among all of the fields of our multidisciplinary curriculum.
EIB (Economics and International Business):
DHP (Diplomacy, History, and Politics):
ILO (International Law and Organizations):
In the final Faculty Spotlight post for this academic year, the subject is Julia Stewart-David, who spent this past year at Fletcher as a visiting fellow.
I am about the twelfth visiting European Union (EU) Fellow at The Fletcher School (records are a bit patchy) but we can thank Professor Alan Henrikson for having reached out to set up the EU Fellowship at Fletcher somewhere back toward the end of the last century. So what is a visiting EU Fellow? Well, there are around ten of us each year, mid- or senior-level career officials in European Union institutions, who are given the opportunity to have a sabbatical year in a select few universities worldwide. While we are visiting fellows, we have a dual mandate of pursuing research and of educating about the European Union and its policies through outreach and teaching. We each bring a different area of practitioner expertise.
The Fletcher School was my first choice destination, mainly because professionally I knew of its strong interest in human security issues, through the influential research work of the Feinstein Center. My “usual” job is a policy role in the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, co-managing a team working on evidence and disaster risk management. I’ve been in the humanitarian sector for over a decade now, working closely with the UN and international NGOs on quality of aid. But being in a sector whose business is crisis leaves little time for deeper reflection on the world and the interlinked complexities of power, politics, poverty, and human potential. One of the dilemmas of disaster risk management is how to get better investment over the long-term to help communities prevent or better cope with crises, when the immediate humanitarian response is so constantly overwhelmed by the need to respond to the emergencies of the present. Most of these are prolonged conflict-related “complex emergencies.”
So imagine my sense of opportunity at having an academic year where my professional life is focused upon thinking, reading, and contributing to a longer-term process of reflection on change in the humanitarian sector. While at Fletcher, I have been researching how humanitarian organizations learn. This is a time when the sector has undergone much soul-searching ahead of the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Failure takes its toll in lives; which leads perversely to risk-aversion in organizations trying to provide assistance, when bold action, or maybe even a radical new approach, could be what’s needed.
I have found life here at Fletcher a wonderful privilege. There is a strong sense of community and a core of thoughtful people who care about the world and how they can best contribute to it. The most remarkable learning resource is the diversity of student experience and interest. As to the professional experience I have been able to share, it has covered a wide range of topics: from strategies to address violent extremism, to the forthcoming UK referendum on the European Union; from humanitarian financing and use of evidence and evaluation, to tips on combining motherhood and management in an international organization that has still not reached gender parity. I have also enjoyed explaining my passion for “participatory leadership” practice in policy-making, or put another way: bringing diverse people together to co-generate future action based on collective wisdom. In my mind, international and community leadership to address the challenges of our times requires multi-disciplinary reflection, adaptability and an ability to host difficult conversations on questions that really matter to society. I see these qualities in abundance at Fletcher. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if traditional educational approaches and curricula would value and develop those kinds of skills at all levels from a young age?
My family and I will be taking many happy memories from Boston back with us to Brussels when we head home this summer. I also have a head full of ideas of things we should try to do better in the humanitarian sphere.
The subject of today’s Faculty Spotlight feature is John Allen Burgess, Professor of Practice and Executive Director of Fletcher’s LLM Program. In addition to his role as LLM director, he currently teaches Mergers and Acquisitions: An International Perspective, and Securities Regulation: An International Prospective.
Every semester, I have the privilege to enjoy a range of special experiences along with the Fletcher LLM students. From the fall, when we first get a chance to meet each other and other members of the law faculty at Professor Chayes’ beautiful home, to the spring, when we gather as a group off campus to hear about each other’s work and talk with a range of guests over lunch, a drink or dinner, the year is filled with so many chances to learn and to interact with each other.
But the experience I most enjoy is the High Table — an opportunity for the LLM students and law faculty to come together in a book-lined seminar room to learn from experts in various aspects of international law. It is the perfect location and atmosphere for off-the-record conversations on a wide range of issues.
I attended my first High Table in September 2014 — and immediately realized that it was a very special experience. Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei joined the group to discuss his experiences as Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency in both Iraq and Iran as well as his experiences during the Arab spring. It was an extraordinary opportunity to hear in a small group about the views of a Nobel prize winner, and learn more as he, my fellow faculty members, and the LLM students pursued an open dialogue across a wide range of topics.
As I now look back at the many High Tables I have attended, two things strike me. The first is the opportunity to meet and hear from people who have achieved amazing things in the law, often against extraordinary odds and challenges. Chief Judge Patricia Wald, who spoke to us regarding her work as Chair of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was also a pioneer in so many respects — as a young mother who went to law school when few women attended and as the first woman Chief Justice of the DC Circuit. She then, instead of taking a well-earned retirement, served as a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, working to build a new international jurisprudence. The High Table’s intimate surroundings gave me a chance to see first-hand her intelligence, her humility, and the richness of her experience. It left me feeling both humble and deeply impressed.
The second special feature of the High Tables is the excitement of being exposed to legal issues that are outside my area of expertise. For example, earlier this year, Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Nigeria, gave a provocative talk on issues of rule of law in emerging economies — he challenged our thinking on the issue and provoked an informative discussion among the group. Cravath partner Rory Millsom walked the group through the thicket of legal considerations surrounding targeted killing by drones, making some challenging points about the application of law to new technologies along the way.
No matter how many High Tables I have attended, I always leave the discussion knowing that I have learned something new and that I am lucky to be surrounded by such informed students and teachers. It’s a great feeling and a significant perk of my work at Fletcher.
Professor Jeswald W. Salacuse, the subject of today’s Faculty Spotlight feature, has had a long and varied career at Fletcher, starting in 1986 with eight years as dean, and continuing as he transitioned to a teaching role. Currently, as the Henry J. Braker Professor of Law, Professor Salacuse teaches International Investment Law, Corporate Governance in International Business and Finance, Law and Development, and a new course Negotiating International Leadership, but in his post below, he tells us about one of his out-of-Fletcher activities.
I moonlight as an international judge. For the past several years, while teaching full time at the Fletcher School, I have served as president of an international arbitration tribunal, hearing cases brought against Argentina by foreign investors in that country. The investors have claimed that the Argentine government had not treated them as it had promised in various bilateral investment treaties made with the investors’ home governments. A principal purpose of investment treaties, of which there are now about 3000 in the world, is to protect and promote investment between the countries that sign them. Under these treaties, each country promises, among other things, that it will not expropriate investments from the other country and that it will treat them fairly, provide them with protection and security, and will not discriminate unjustly against them.
Promises are only as good as the mechanisms to enforce them. The enforcement mechanism in investment treaties is international arbitration, a process that allows investors to sue a foreign government before an independent international tribunal, to obtain compensation for injuries caused by that government’s failure to give the investor the treatment promised under the treaty. Granting a private party the right to bring an action against a sovereign state in an international tribunal is a revolutionary innovation that now seems largely taken for granted. Yet its uniqueness and power should not be overlooked. A similar remedy does exist in most other areas of international law. It is this mechanism that gives important, practical significance to an investment treaty, and truly enables investment treaties to afford protection to foreign investment. As a result, aggrieved foreign investors are bringing increasing numbers of arbitration claims when they believe host countries have denied them treaty protection, and in some cases tribunals have awarded them damages in the tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of dollars. Fearful that they may be subjected to “home-town justice” in national courts and will therefore receive prejudicial treatment, investors have preferred to plead their cases before an independent international tribunal rather than take their chances in national courts under the control of the government they are suing.
Most investor-state tribunals consist of three arbitrators, one named by the party bringing the claim, another appointed by the party defending against the claim, and the third, usually, the president or chair of the tribunal, appointed by agreement of the two sides. The tribunal members are not the representatives of the parties but are to exercise their judgment independently. If arbitrators have not maintained their duty of independence, they may be challenged and removed from the tribunal. Each side is represented by lawyers, often major international law firms because of the amount of money at stake, and the whole process functions according to strict rules of procedure and elaborate principles of international law. Many investor-state cases take place under the facilities of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an independent international organization affiliated with the World Bank and located in Washington, D.C.
Although the United States is a party to almost fifty investment treaties, all of which provide for investor-state arbitration, and though it has even been a defendant in a few cases, public attention suddenly focused on this process only in the past year as a result of projected U. S participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a twelve-nation trade and investment treaty that will provide investor-state arbitration for claims in the event of treaty violations. TPP opponents have railed against investor-state arbitration in particular, expressing fears about lost sovereignty and the machinations of “secret and sinister tribunals.” Much of the opposition to that agreement has been based on unsubstantiated fears and ignorance of the nature of the process and how it functions. The actual record of investor-state arbitration over the past twenty years has been good. As of 2013, 274 investor-state cases had been concluded. Of that number, 42% had been decided in favor of defendant states, 34% had been decided in favor of investors, and 27% were settled by agreement of the parties. The record by no means shows, as some would claim, that tribunals have an investor bias and that investor-state arbitration is a threat to national sovereignty. On the contrary, I would argue that the investor-state arbitration supports the international rule of law. Governments sometimes violate international law. When they do, they should be held accountable. The essence of the rule of law is the ability of a private person to sue a government for violation of the law and obtain a fair hearing.
My experience moonlighting as an international judge has enriched my teaching of Law and Development and International Investment Law at Fletcher, as well as my scholarship in those areas. The tribunal over which I have presided has included Professor Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler, a Swiss national, and Professor Pedro Nikken from Venezuela, both exceptional lawyers who have diligently and knowledgeably worked to render fair decisions on innumerable procedural and substantive issues in the years we have worked together. Far from being a “sinister tribunal,” our association has been most congenial. In support of that proposition, I offer the attached photo of the three of us showing up for work one summer morning as Exhibit A.
Our next post in the Faculty Spotlight series comes from Andrew Hess, Professor of Diplomacy and Director of the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program. Professor Hess currently teaches Southwest Asia: History, Culture, and Politics, The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and The Globalization of Central Asia and the Caucasus. In his post, Professor Hess describes the curriculum changes he has needed to make to keep his courses current.
The courses I offer in the fall semester deal with an explosion of complex conflicts from Eastern Europe to China. Happily this should improve employment opportunities for future diplomats! But the down side of all this violent activity means I need to constantly adjust course curricula.
In the interest of keeping up with all the turmoil, I am going to describe the additions to our previous semesters’ battles by trying to understand radical change in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the emerging nation states along the southern edge of the former Soviet Union. I, however, offer no guarantee on including all that may happen in Southwest and Central Eurasia: I find this region has indeed earned its reputation for being a land of unpredictability.
Diplomacy 265 (The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) was originally dedicated to understanding the international and internal politics related to key diplomatic issues of the three non-Arabic language speaking nation states east of Iraq, south of Central Asia and west of India. Alas, the power of twenty-first century global change makes it ever more difficult to explain what is happening in this region on the basis of only a national analysis.
The big issue is: Why so much violence and so little in the way of diplomatic solutions in this huge chunk of Eurasia? The answer is, no doubt, going to be complex; and among the various new explanations for this bleak situation I suggest that the intensified impact of three global trends in this sub-division of Southwest Asia have added to the forces of instability already underway in this strategically important portion of Eurasia.
Very briefly these “trends” are:
- The absence of a balance of great powers for Eurasia as a whole has intensified powerful regional struggles on a global level (think about the states and-non government organizations who might want to take advantage of weak states);
- Second, the widespread inability of Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian governments and societies to cope institutionally with a global acceleration of social and cultural change is certainly behind recent upheavals (which terrorist group do you follow on Pakistan’s northwest frontier);
- Finally, what to do about a new geopolitics of energy (there is an ongoing gas revolution) for a region (the Central Eurasian Energy Ellipse) that provides, maybe, seventy percent of the world’s oil and gas resources;
And while we are talking about diplomatic problems involving commerce, we should not forget that Afghanistan is probably the world’s largest producer of heroin.
The Globalization of the South Caucasus and Central Asia (Diplomacy 267) course came to the Fletcher curriculum as a response to the increasing strategic importance of this slice of Eurasia during the period of the Cold War (1953-1991). But the politics of the old bipolar struggle in Eurasia has now been replaced by conflicts between of new nation states now emerging from within the former body of the Soviet Union and the effort of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation to restore in some fashion the prestige of the Russian state.
Meanwhile huge technological forces associated with the economic development of all of Eurasia are linking the heartland of the Continent with the global economy: starting in the last quarter of the twentieth century the almost simultaneous growth of global oil production in the Soviet Union and the transfer under European control of high level petroleum skills into the Persian/Arabian Gulf arena set the stage for the modern geo-politics of energy in Eurasia. So the two courses (Diplomacy 265 and 267) complement each other in the sense that great and small powers have to develop policies to defend their strategic interests in the production, processing, and transportation oil and gas.
Starting last fall, I have expanded the coverage of the 267 course to include a wider range of states along the edge of the southern frontier of the former Soviet Union. In the west, we will argue that the Russian seizure of the Crimea is part of the larger political struggle for political power in the center of Eurasia; and it is an event that should be included within the wider Eurasian geo-politics of energy (gas supply for Europe). At the eastern edge of former Soviet frontier we need to study the diplomatic problems of Russia’s new energy relations with China, in relation to the interests of Eurasia’s Turkish speaking states and societies. (Uyghurs!). And of course, I have added some new material concerning the technical revolutions taking place in the petroleum sector, where the international impact is not so clear at this time.
Finally, my current research asks, what role does the sectarian dispute between the Sunni and Shi’i versions of Islam play in the contemporary politics of Southwest Asia?
Outside of the classroom, the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program involves students in the selection of speakers and the generation of discussions of key events involving Southwest and Central Asia. When there is student interest, the Program sponsors the online journal (Al Nakhlah) as an effort to encourage students to publish their research papers. We usually employ two student editors for this project. And the program also supports summer research efforts for those students who are in the MALD or PhD programs and are working on a topic related to the Southwest and Central Asian courses. Last, during the fall semester, we celebrate social and cultural cohesion at an annual picnic.
Returning again to the Faculty Spotlight series, today we’ll read about Professor Sulmaan Khan, who is actually on sabbatical this semester. When he rejoins us at Fletcher in the spring, he will teach The Historian’s Art and Current Affairs and Foreign Relations Of Modern China, 1644 to the Present. He also teaches China’s Frontiers.
FRAGMENTS OF A FLETCHER LIFE
Fall — one of those glorious New England fall days when you long to feel the wind in your face. “We’re going outside today,” I announce to the class. Nods of approval. We settle down on the grass, the leaves red and gold around us, and talk of Chinese foreign relations. Later, trying to write about it, I will forget what it was we discussed that particular day. (It was too late in the semester for Koxinga, that crazy warrior whom Japan, Taiwan, and China all claim for their own; it was too early for Deng Xiaoping, with the pragmatism he brought to China and the carnage he unleashed at Tiananmen Square. We could have been talking about the Taiping rebellion or we could have been talking about the Korean War — as I say, I cannot be sure). But I will remember the red-tail.
A pair of red-tailed hawks has been nesting near Fletcher at least since I started here in 2013. And as we talk, one of them comes soaring in upon the winds — a huge chocolate-brown and white hawk, the red tail like fire in the autumn sky — to land in the tree behind us. I pause, mid-lecture, to point it out to the class. For a large bird, the red-tail can be astonishingly adept at hiding; this one chooses to blend almost entirely into the branches. I wait till everyone has seen it before carrying on. It is important, of course, to know the details of China’s past. But you cannot let magic pass you by, and there is something magical about red-tails.
As geniuses go, Bismarck is an astonishingly divisive figure. (But then, so too is Henry Kissinger, who wrote more insightfully about Bismarck than any other historian). I have been trying to explain Bismarck’s problem to my class on The Historian’s Art and Current Affairs: his diplomacy was too complex, too intricate for most people to understand. There was shock, horror when his successors discovered the treaties he had made, the web of alliances and obligations virtually impenetrable to them. Good as he was, I tell the class, he could not prepare the way for his successor.
“I don’t think he can be called good then. That level of disorganization is unacceptable,” says one of my students. A good leader, she explains, creates a system and grooms people who can work it.
“But is it is his fault?” I ask. “Can you blame him if no one else was quite smart enough to understand how the treaties worked?” This is the central argument about Bismarck, and the class — a confident, stimulating bunch — will be at it for the rest of the session.
“He could have color-coded them,” says another student decidedly. She has, I have to acknowledge, a point there.
Ellen McDonald is our research librarian, and, as I invariably tell students working on their capstones, the smartest person at Fletcher. She knows almost everything and what she doesn’t know, she knows how to find out. She is also incredibly idealistic. She believes deeply in the holy myths of academe, in its commitment to seeking truth, the freedoms it grants you for that quest. She has spent time in jail for protesting defense policies she found abhorrent; she has been a foster mother to numerous children. She is as formidable a combination of intellect and heart as one can encounter, and I always come away from conversations with her feeling inspired.
Today, Ellen is talking about elephants.
“Do you know that in the time we have been talking an elephant has been slain?” she asks.
I do know that. In my heart of hearts, I still want to be a naturalist.
“I’ve created a research guide on illegal wildlife trafficking,” she says, punching it up. It is an impressive piece of work.
“We have to save the elephant,” Ellen tells me. “Are you in?”
How could I not be?
In spring, students’ minds turn to their futures. For the second years, there is the job hunt. For first years, the questions are, if not as pressing, perhaps more tortuous. “What is the best way of using this summer to ensure I get a job next year? Can I balance what I want to do with the responsible thing to do? If I do something this summer and don’t like it, can I do something else next year, or has the chance been missed?”
A student has come to me with a gleam in her eye and a ramble planned: she wants to take the Trans-Siberian railway. It is a glorious trip: she will meet people she would never have dreamt of, see Russia and China the way few people have. For a student of international affairs, it will be a learning experience better than any internship. I am proud that she is brave enough to reach for this.
“Take the train,” I say. “You won’t regret it.” I feel a surge of gratitude for my own teachers, for their wisdom in telling me to trust my instincts and take a trail even if I didn’t know where it would lead. One has an entire lifetime to be grown-up and responsible; giddy adventure just might be good preparation for that lifetime. At the very least, it will be fun.
She takes the train. She writes to me in Russian a few months later. She has had a grand time.
At graduation, one of the speakers talks about the problems the world faces: the poverty, the inequality, the death penalty and how it is still practiced in Boston. She is passionate; she is logical; she is all one hopes a speaker would be. “What did you think of it?” students ask later. “We hear some people thought it might not be appropriate.”
“I loved it,” I say. It is their day and they deserve all the congratulations coming their way — but it is wise to temper those congratulations with a reminder that there is work to be done. “I don’t want you to get too comfortable,” I say. “And I’m glad she didn’t let you.”
I think about this as I walk back down towards the Davis Square T-stop. I will not be back to the comforts of Fletcher next fall: a sabbatical has rolled around, and I will be off in Asia, doing research for a book on Sino-Japanese relations (at least, that’s how it starts out. Books are living things; they become what they want to become, regardless of what you plan for them). One needs a change to stay fresh, and I am glad for the chance to head to Japan, China, and Taiwan, to see new places and hear new things. But I will miss Fletcher. It is like nowhere else I know.
A shadow falls on the grass, and I look up. Overhead, a red-tail is climbing in lazy spirals. It circles once more as I watch, then veers off towards Fletcher and is gone.
With today’s post, I’m returning to our occasional Faculty Spotlight series. These posts are designed to bring out an aspect of the professor’s background or experience at Fletcher that goes beyond the basics of a c.v. Today we’ll hear from Lawrence Krohn, Professor of Practice of International Economics, who currently teaches Introduction to Economic Theory, Macroeconomics, and Macroeconomic Problems of Middle Income Countries: Focus on Latin America.
I was smitten at 17. Deeply in love. The University of Pennsylvania’s economics faculty, however eminent, was not my inspiration; in four years, I hardly ever saw them. It was the subject matter itself that seduced me. Only much later, over the years, did I discover that this strange passion, this way of viewing the world, was shared by economists of wide-ranging personalities, nationalities, political persuasions. I suspect that my colleagues in economics at Fletcher feel just as I do.
Many individuals of humanistic persuasion, knowing economics only by reputation (often as the “dismal science”), might well wonder what sort of person could be enthralled by money and finance. Therein lies the error: economics is only superficially about money and finance. Its ultimate domain is that of human wants and our world’s highly constrained ability to satisfy them. Many emotions are thereby touched; economics is about people.
The so-called economics “imperialists” among us maintain that most issues that do not appear economic in nature are indeed so at their core. I don’t share this extreme position, as it implicitly depreciates other perspectives I respect, such as the political, social, and psychological. But I do agree that few real-world phenomena are without important economic aspects, so the tools of economics remain indispensable to all thinking persons, not least those pursuing a curriculum of international affairs!
Economic modeling daunts some students – but without good reason. Modeling is a tool of simplification, not complication. It reduces often complex issues to their essentials by paring away the irrelevant, while retaining strict logical consistency. Yes, at modeling’s highest professional levels, complex math is unavoidable. But models a Fletcher student will encounter rely on basic accounting (high school algebra with some clothes on) and a few simple, but powerful, assumptions about the behavior of consumers, firms, and governments. Thus, fear of models is unwarranted and the intellectual reward to a modicum of concentration on them is high.
I’ve been doubly fortunate: first, to have had two entirely complementary careers — the longer one, as international economist for several global banks, sandwiched by two stints (including the present one) in academia. As a former academic, I was well equipped for the simplification required to explain complex economic phenomena to portfolio managers who, their energy and intelligence notwithstanding, were in no way trained economists. Conversely, at Fletcher since 2005 (full-time since 2008), I have been able to draw amply on my real-world experience in global finance.
Second, I was lucky as well to have stumbled fortuitously onto Latin America in the 1980s, despite the lack of any ethnic or other association with the region. What a laboratory for economists that continent has always been and remains! Its problems, like those of other middle-income nations, have been related to, but still distinct from the more familiar ones of industrial nations.
With hindsight, it is relatively easy to identify policy errors that have been made; more difficult to define optimal policies. Whenever I deal with economic policy — even in a developed-nation context — I start from the premise that governments almost always execute policy inefficiently (often corruptly as well). Alas, given the myriad real-world departures (called market distortions or imperfections) from market fundamentalists’ Smithian ideal, unfettered market forces also prove notoriously inefficient, and are often, moreover, perceived as unfair (admittedly, a subjective notion).
So the question becomes for each contemplated policy, how much state intervention is desirable. Where should the line be drawn between the completely planned economy and laissez-faire? Honest and well informed observers can legitimately disagree on the answers, which is what makes economic debate so endlessly fascinating.
Continuing this spring’s installment of the Faculty Spotlight series, today we hear from Prof. Ayesha Jalal, who holds a dual appointment between Fletcher and the Tufts University History Department, and is the Mary Richardson Professor of History. Prof. Jalal is spending the year teaching in Lahore, Pakistan, but when on campus she teaches Contemporary South Asia, and Islam and the West.
Misconceptions about history abound and one result has been a growing dissonance between the historian’s perspective and the more presentist views generally favored by policy makers. Teaching “Contemporary South Asia” and “Islam and the West” at the Fletcher School enables me to interact with a diverse group of students with varied interests, ranging from development, security studies, conflict resolution, international business, and South West Asia.
Several of the Fletcher students I have taught have gone on to assume positions in the policy-making hierarchy as well the non-governmental sector. A better understanding of history, and appreciation of the value of the historical method in particular, can help navigate the often confused and confusing nature of politics in our troubled world.
Fletcher’s vibrant international community of students, scholars, and practitioners is a perfect setting to discuss the complex issues that are bedeviling the contemporary world, whether the presence of Al-Qaeda in the tribal badlands of north western Pakistan; the specter of chaos symbolized by the rise of ISIS; or the persistence of poverty, discrimination and abject deprivation in a nuclearized South Asia.
The next in our series of Faculty Spotlight posts comes from Steven Block. Prof. Block currently teaches Development Economics: Macroeconomic Perspectives, Agriculture and Rural Development in Developing Countries, and Political Economy of Reform, Growth, and Equity. It was also announced today that Prof. Block will serve as Academic Dean in 2015-2016.
My interest in economics came initially from outside the field. During my senior year in college, I took a class on the politics of hunger. I found the topic compelling, and after graduating volunteered at Oxfam America. A year later, I stumbled into a class on the “economics of the world food system” and I was swept away by the realization that the dry and seemingly counterintuitive theories that filled my introduction to economics curriculum could actually be applied to analyze and propose solutions to a real-world problem that mattered. My professor in that class would later become my PhD thesis advisor, and we still collaborate on research over thirty years later.
I hope that my own teaching at Fletcher has the same effect on my students. In my class on food policy and agricultural development, I try to demonstrate the value of applied economic theory as a tool to understand the complex and emotionally vexing issue of world hunger. The topics that I cover in that class include the design of policy interventions to protect nutritionally vulnerable consumers, as well as interventions to generate income for smallholder farmers. These challenges are magnified by the recognition that consumers and producers of food often have conflicting interests (that is, producers prefer high food prices, while consumers prefer low food prices). Resolving such conflicting interests among groups in society inevitably leads to issues of political economy – another core focus of my teaching and research.
These topics also motivate much of my academic research. In recent years (often in collaboration with colleagues at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy), I’ve investigated the measurement and determinants of agricultural productivity in Africa, the roles of maternal education and economic growth on child nutritional status, and the politics of agricultural trade policy in Africa.
My broader interest in development economics stemmed from my initial interest in hunger issues. Needless to say, hunger has its roots in poverty. But the relationship between poverty and hunger is complex, with causality running in both directions at once. I’m particularly interested in the potential for agricultural development to contribute to the broader process of economic development. Thus, core topics in my development economics class include poverty, equity, and the effect of economic growth on both. Since poverty in developing countries is disproportionately rural, development strategies that include agriculture have the potential to generate “pro-poor” growth.
While I take every opportunity in class to demonstrate the uses of economic theory in addressing these issues, I also stress the need for interdisciplinary approaches. Towards that end, I teach a class on the political economy of growth and equity in developing countries. Part of the motivation for the class is the recognition that while economic models can prescribe the “right” answers to policy challenges, politicians often make other choices — frequently to the detriment of a majority of their own citizens. In this class, we explore various paradigms that seek to explain the too frequent observation of politicians sacrificing social welfare for political survival.
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