Tag Archives: economics

Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar

Political science professor Ardeth Thawnghmung has just published her new book with us: Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar, about strategies adopted by ordinary citizens in Burma/Myanmar—most of whom survive on the equivalent of two to five dollars a day—to cope with the economic stresses of everyday life.

What inspired you to write the book?

The book was inspired by my own experiences growing up in Burma under the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s. My family and I employed various survival tactics to supplement my parents’ combined earnings, which barely covered the cost of food and basic necessities. These strategies—multiple poorly paid jobs, painstaking financial management, pooling resources, and engaging in acts of reciprocity and mutual obligation—are still being utilized by many people, even in the freer political and economic environment created by the more reformist governments elected in 2010 and 2015.

A lot has been written about everyday life in poor countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa. How does your book differ from others in this field?

I employ a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates political, economic, social and psychological aspects of coping strategies, analyzing their impacts on collective welfare, the environment, the national economy, and political development. I also examine comparable political and economic situations in Asia, Africa and Latin America to develop systematic categories of informal activities that produce autonomous and self-governing spaces and lead to positive—as well as negative—policy changes for society, or even undermine state capacity and democratization efforts.

How did you collect data, and what were the biggest challenges you faced while conducting research in Myanmar?

This project is based on in-depth interviews and surveys of 372 individuals from all walks of life throughout Myanmar between 2008 and 2015 as well as my own observations and experiences. Many of the challenges I faced are typical for research carried out under authoritarian regimes, including a lack of available data, restricted political environments and concerns about the safety of those who associated with me.

Did any of your findings surprise you?

I was surprised by how prevalent and long-lasting these strategies were, and how creative people became to meet economic challenges in evolving political situations.

Myanmar has recently provoked international outrage over military brutality which triggered the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. How does your study of everyday politics in mainly Buddhist areas of the country offer insight into their plight?

The Rohingyas situation is an extreme case where people go about trying to create a sense of normalcy out of difficult situations. However, very little attention has been paid to the majority of Myanmar citizens, whose attitudes toward the Rohingya have been overwhelmingly hostile. While these attitudes are influenced by specific historical and political context that shape and constrain popular behavior, and by the growing anti-Islamic sentiments that we see across the world, they are also a product of responses to decades-old authoritarianism. Some of these individual and collective coping practices help foster self-help and can even challenge the legitimacy and longevity of military rule, but general survival tactics among ordinary people rarely align with the practices that are key to successful transitions to democracy.

Do you think your findings offer advice and insights for the current National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi?

Some survival strategies have negative long-term consequences, not only on individuals and their communities, but also on the environment, public welfare, state capacity, and democratic processes. Both the Thein Sein and NLD governments have attempted to deal with their effects by formulating new regulations and enhancing enforcement mechanisms while rarely addressing the root causes. For instance, successful attempts to act on negative activities from petty corruption, counterfeit products and illegal gambling to illegal mining, and logging and issues such as child labor require not only enhancing state capacity through proper incentives and training for civil servants, but also providing alternative opportunities for those utilizing such methods. These are crucial challenges that need to be addressed by any transitional democratic government with limited resources, particularly the NLD government which is facing elections in 2020.

 

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung author photoArdeth Maung Thawnghmung is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is the author of several books, including Behind the Teak Curtain: Authoritarianism, Agricultural Policies, and Political Legitimacy in Rural Burma.

Employers Look Closely at Your Address, Study Finds

Journal of Human Resources cover imageForthcoming Journal of Human Resources article finds evidence of distance-based discrimination in the hiring process

It’s a vicious cycle: those living in poverty are often unable to afford housing in city centers, putting them far from jobs. And, according to new research set to appear in The Journal of Human Resources, employers may discriminate against job seekers who have longer commutes. This could be one factor making it difficult for many Americans to escape poverty, posits David Phillips, the study’s author.

Phillips had a hunch that a person’s address might impact their chances of getting hired. To measure the effects of distance on an applicant’s performance, Phillips’s team sent 2,260 resumes in response to low-wage position openings (requiring only a high school education) in Washington, DC. The findings were clear: the farther away an applicant lived from the job location, the less likely they were to receive a callback from the employer. To clarify these results, Phillips wanted to determine whether employers looked more favorably on addresses from wealthier neighborhoods, even if they were far from the place of work. When resumes were sent from neighborhoods with similar levels of affluence but different commute lengths, Phillips found that applicants from the more distant neighborhoods received 14 percent fewer callbacks than applicants who lived closer to the job site, even though both applicants could be presumed to have the same socioeconomic status. Overall, Phillips determined that employers weigh an applicant’s distance from the job more heavily than their neighborhood’s affluence.

Phillips, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame, joined us to discuss the genesis of his interest in this topic and the larger implications of this study. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, listen to Phillips’s interview with NPR, and check out some of the press that this study has been receiving, here, here, and here.

How did you decide to pursue this topic?

During my dissertation, I spent some time working with a non-profit employment agency in Washington, DC. Most of their clients lived in less affluent neighborhoods in Southeast DC and transportation was a common question. I helped them run a pilot testing whether public transit subsidies could facilitate the job search process for people looking for low-wage jobs. It became clear that their clients were working with major transportation issues. At some point in that project, the idea came up that employers were probably aware of the transportation difficulties that people face and might respond to the address listed on the job application.

Why did it make sense to publish in The Journal of Human Resources?

The JHR has a great reputation for publishing rigorous work on the most important questions in empirical economics. As a result, it reaches a broad audience of applied economists. I thought the paper’s topic would be a good fit for that audience given increased attention to neighborhood effects and urban geography in the literature lately. The JHR also has a track record of publishing correspondence experiments. This paper fits with earlier work by David Neumark and Joanna Lahey that has shown up in the pages of The JHR.

How does the distance bias interact with other discrimination applicants might face—due to class, race, or gender, for example?

Discrimination based on commute distance could compound existing inequity. Other things equal, remote places are cheaper and thus attract people with other disadvantages. For example, on average a black person in DC lives one mile farther from jobs than a white person. Even if employers have a clear, rational, unbiased reason for avoiding people with long commutes, that penalty disproportionately falls on people who face other barriers.

What part of your findings surprised you the most, and why?

An interesting topic is one where you suspect an effect exists where other people think it doesn’t. So, I went into this betting employers care about addresses, and the response to distance was not a surprise to me. I was more surprised that employers do not respond much to neighborhood affluence. I expected employers to really penalize distant, poor neighborhoods both because of their remoteness and because of poverty. And I don’t find evidence of the latter despite the fact that the fake applicants come from very, very different neighborhoods in terms of affluence.


David Phillips

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

David Phillips, PhD, works in the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) within the Department of Economics at the University of Notre Dame. His research focuses on poverty, particularly as it relates to low-wage labor markets, crime, housing, and transportation. His research has been published in high quality economics field journals and presented widely for policy audiences. Prior to coming to Notre Dame, David received a Bachelor’s degree from Butler University, earned a PhD in Economics from Georgetown University, and worked for 4 years at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Which Renewable Energy Source Is Best for Citizens’ Well-Being?

For a long time, economists lacked an objective way to measure complicated outcomes like well-being, so this aspect of human life didn’t receive much attention in the economic literature. Heinz Welsch is part of a growing movement in research to use subjective data, such as survey responses, to understand human impacts. In a video for Latest Thinking, Welsch describes his study examining the relationship between type of energy source and citizen well-being, the results of which were published in Land Economics journal.

Heinz Welsch on Electricity Supply and Citizen Well-Being | Latest Thinking

Source: Heinz Welsch on Electricity Supply and Citizen Well-Being | Latest Thinking

The study looked at German citizens’ proximity to solar, wind, and biomass plants. The authors relied on survey responses to find correlations between well-being and the presence of a particular type of power facility in the local area. Welsch and his coauthor Charlotte von Möllendorff found that while the positive financial and moral aspects of solar energy balanced out the negative, “eyesore” qualities of solar installations, resulting in no net impact for citizens, those living near biomass facilities experienced significant decrease in well-being due to the strong odors emitted by the plants. Interestingly, people who had to deal with wind turbines going up in their neighborhoods experienced negative well-being for a certain period following installation, but this changed over time into an overall positive effect.

In the Latest Thinking video, Welsch expresses the hope that his research will aid the many countries that are currently in the process of restructuring their energy supplies in response to climate change. With evidence that certain forms of renewable energy make better neighbors, governments would do well to consider citizen well-being when deciding how to power their futures.

To learn more, read the full article, “Measuring Renewable Energy Externalities: Evidence from Subjective Well-being Data,” in Land Economics.

 

Land Economics Journal Welcomes New Editor

Daniel J. Phaneuf

When Daniel W. Bromley assumed the editorship of Land Economics in 1974, the journal had just celebrated fifty years of continuous publication. Bromley is the Anderson-Bascom Professor (Emeritus) of Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and recipient of the 2011 Reimar Lüst Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Under Bromley’s leadership, the journal has flourished as a forum for scholarship on the economic aspects of natural and environmental resources. Now, forty-four years later, as Land Economics approaches its centennial, Bromley will pass the baton to Daniel J. Phaneuf.

Phaneuf is the Henry C. Taylor Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He boasts an impressive editorial resume, having served as the inaugural editor in chief of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (JAERE) and the managing editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. He is the president-elect of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.

In his first “From the Editor” feature, which will appear in Land Economics volume 94 number 3 this July, Phaneuf expresses the ambition “to maintain the journal’s emphasis on empirical and pol­icy-relevant research in the field, while con­tinuing to expand its readership and author community to include broader swaths of re­searchers in the profession.” He continues, “My early emphasis will be on increasing the journal’s visibility, circulation, and overall impact—tasks for which I will call on current authors, readers, and reviewers for assistance and sug­gestions.” Phaneuf notes that he does not anticipate making any changes in the journal’s scholarly focus or the way it is managed.

Land Economics was established in 1925 by Richard T. Ely, founder of the American Economic Association, at the University of Wisconsin. (For more on Ely’s legacy, including the story of how he was tried as a socialist and anarchist in 1894, leading the UW Board of Regents to issue a groundbreaking defense of academic freedom, see this article.) Today, the articles in Land Economics contribute crucial knowledge to discussions of scholarly and public policy topics. The journal publishes research related to environmental quality, natural resources, housing, urban and rural land use, transportation, and other areas in both developed and developing country contexts.

Journal of Human Resources contributes to public policy debates

With this post, we launch an occasional series highlighting the University of Wisconsin Press journals program. UWP began publishing journals in the 1960s.

The Journal of Human Resourcescover_jhr is among the most important journals in the field of microeconomics, with research relevant not only to scholars but to current debates in public policy. Findings and analysis published in JHR are often covered by major news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC’s Today Show, CNBC, and National Public Radio. The journal’s scope includes the economics of labor, development, health, education, discrimination, and retirement.

Founded in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, JHR continues to be housed within the Institute for Research on Poverty. JHR has had many accomplished editors over the years, including Sandra Black, who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in July 2015. The current editor, David Figlio, is the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

A past JHR contributor of particular interest to the University of Wisconsin–Madison is the current UW Chancellor, Rebecca Blank. Her work on poverty and public assistance programs appeared in four articles in JHR before she became Deputy and Acting Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.

Intriguing examples of research presented in JHR can be seen in two upcoming articles. The first, “It’s Just a Game: The Super Bowl and Low Birth Weight” by Duncan, Mansour, and Rees, interprets data from 1969 to 2004 for mothers whose home team played in the Super Bowl. Read the Washington Post’s coverage here. “The 9/11 Dust Cloud and Pregnancy Outcomes” by Currie and Schwandt also examines birth outcomes, in this case in relation to the events of 9/11. Their findings were recently cited by National Geographic.

Other topics recently covered in JHR included the effect of birth order on the development of a child, the unintended consequences of China’s One-Child policy, the influence of school nutrition programs on childhood obesity, the effects of age on hiring practices, and the effect of the minimum wage on employment practices.

Learn more about The Journal of Human Resources.

View a free online sample issue.