You are the Interim Director of the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise (ISFE). Tell us about that.
The Institute is dedicated to understanding the role that markets play in the economy and society. This is a broad umbrella that includes everything from entrepreneurship to business strategy to the impacts of government interventions in a market economy to broader debates such as capitalism versus socialism. We aim to foster open dialogue on topics like these through a series of public events featuring prominent speakers. We also support faculty and student research into these topics as well as student contests related to various aspects of free enterprise.
The ISFE has facilitated many notable guests and topics – the fight for freedom in Venezuela, Andy Pudzer, former CEO of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.; and most recently, Steve Forbes. What do you hope the Gatton community can gain from these events?
The goal of these events is really open dialogue. We hope Gatton students and others across campus can be exposed to different viewpoints on debates related to free enterprise. We see the university as a marketplace of ideas and want to play our part in that mission.
Are there any trends or news in the world of free enterprise that are of particular interest to you right now?
I’m interested in the re-emergence of socialism into political discourse, and how that highlights the broader issue of inequality in market-based societies. The debates have become so polarized. What interests me is how to find that balance, where we retain the overall prosperity of a market economy while also ensuring a certain minimum standard of living for everyone. This broad idea underpins much of my research.
Tell us about your research.
My ongoing research falls into five buckets: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), government mandates for restaurants to post calorie information on menus, taxes and regulations related to e-cigarettes, the SNAP (food stamp) program, and big box retailers like Walmart and Costco. In all cases, I aim to measure their overall effects on consumers, which include benefits, costs, and unintended consequences.
Has your academic work influenced industry practices or policies? Is there an example you’d like to share?
When you work on timely policy issues, your work is constantly being used as part of the broader policy debate. This has been the case to at least some extent with all of my research areas, but probably most commonly with my work on Obamacare (with Gatton colleague Aaron Yelowitz). To provide a couple specific examples, our efforts to quantify the gains in insurance coverage from Obamacare are frequently cited by advocates of the policy. On the other side, our findings that these gains didn’t translate into all that much of an improvement of population health, and that many new enrollees under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion didn’t actually appear to be income-eligible, have been cited by the law’s opponents. It’s neat to inform both sides of the debate.
What do you enjoy most about being a faculty member at the Gatton College?
Gatton really gives you everything you could want as a faculty member: a great research environment, the opportunity to impact students of all levels, and the platform to influence business and policy.