Category Archives: Admin

Come Study at George Mason University

It is hard to believe but it’s been about 15 years since I attended my first Institute for Humane Studies weekend seminar at Claremont McKenna College. I can still remember the challenging conversations and stimulating lectures, especially those by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel and Lydia Ortega, both of San Jose State.

The most exciting idea I walked away from that weekend with was this: it’s possible to make a career out of advancing liberty.

From I.H.S. I learned about George Mason University. After doing quite a bit of research and attending a Public Choice Outreach Conference at GMU, I became convinced that the best thing I could do to set myself on the path of a career exploring the ideas of liberty was to get a graduate degree in economics from GMU. I eventually got my doctorate at GMU and now I have the best job in the world at the Mercatus Center.

George Mason University School of Public Policy 3351 Fairfax Drive Arlington (VA) 2013If you, too, have ever thought about such a career, now is the time to act on it. Here are a few opportunities:

The PhD Fellowship is a three-year, competitive, full-time fellowship program for students who are pursuing a doctoral degree in economics at George Mason University. It includes full tuition support, a stipend, and experience as a research assistant working closely with Mercatus-affiliated Mason faculty. It is a total award of up to $120,000 over three years. The application deadline is February 1, 2014.

The MA Fellowship is a two-year, competitive, full-time fellowship program for students pursuing a master’s degree in economics at George Mason University and interested in gaining advanced training in applied economics in preparation for a career in public policy. It includes full tuition support, a stipend, and practical experience as a research assistant working with Mercatus scholars. It is a total award of up to $80,000 over two years. The application deadline is March 1, 2014.

The Adam Smith Fellowship is a one-year, competitive fellowship for graduate students attending PhD programs at any university, in a variety of fields, including economics, philosophy, political science, and sociology. Smith Fellows receive a stipend and attend workshops and seminars on the Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington schools of political economy. It is a total award of up to $10,000 for the year. The application deadline is March 15, 2014.

It’s Time to Change the Incentives of Regulators

One of the primary reasons that regulation slows down economic growth is that regulation inhibits innovation.  Another example of that is playing out in real-time.  Julian Hattem at The Hill recently blogged about online educators trying to stop the US Department of Education from preventing the expansion of educational opportunities with regulations.  From Hattem’s post:

Funders and educators trying to spur innovations in online education are complaining that federal regulators are making their jobs more difficult.

John Ebersole, president of the online Excelsior College, said on Monday that Congress and President Obama both were making a point of exploring how the Internet can expand educational opportunities, but that regulators at the Department of Education were making it harder.

“I’m afraid that those folks over at the Departnent of Education see their role as being that of police officers,” he said. “They’re all about creating more and more regulations. No matter how few institutions are involved in particular inappropriate behavior, and there have been some, the solution is to impose regulations on everybody.”

Ebersole has it right – the incentive for people at the Department of Education, and at regulatory agencies in general, is to create more regulations.  Economists sometimes model the government as if it were a machine that benevolently chooses to intervene in markets only when it makes sense. But those models ignore that there are real people inside the machine of government, and people respond to incentives.  Regulations are the product that regulatory agencies create, and employees of those agencies are rewarded with things like plaques (I’ve got three sitting on a shelf in my office, from my days as a regulatory economist at the Department of Transportation), bonuses, and promotions for being on teams that successfully create more regulations.  This is unfortunate, because it inevitably creates pressure to regulate regardless of consequences on things like innovation and economic growth.

A system that rewards people for producing large quantities of some product, regardless of that product’s real value or potential long-term consequences, is a recipe for disaster.  In fact, it sounds reminiscent of the situation of home loan originators in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.  Mortgage origination is the act of making a loan to someone for the purposes of buying a home.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as large commercial and investment banks, would buy mortgages (and the interest that they promised) from home loan originators, the most notorious of which was probably Countrywide Financial (now part of Bank of America).  The originators knew they had a ready buyer for mortgages, including subprime mortgages – that is, mortgages that were relatively riskier and potentially worthless if interest rates rose.  The knowledge that they could quickly turn a profit by originating more loans and selling them to Fannie, Freddie, and some Wall Street firms led many mortgage originators to turn a blind eye to the possibility that many of the loans they made would not be paid back.  That is, the incentives of individuals working in mortgage origination companies led them to produce large quantities of their product, regardless of the product’s real value or potential long-term consequences.  Sound familiar?

Apply for the Mercatus MA Fellowship

One of the more rewarding aspects of my job is the opportunity it affords me to work alongside dozens of bright, ambitious, Mercatus MA Fellows. The Mercatus MA Fellowship is a competitive, full-time fellowship program for students pursuing a master’s degree in economics at George Mason University. It is ideal for those interested in pursuing a career in public policy rather than academia (for those interested in the academic route, the Ph.D. Fellowship may be for you). The MA Fellowship includes full tuition support, a stipend, and a research assistantship position with Mercatus scholars. It is a total award of up to $80,000 over two years.

Successful MA Fellows—including my co-blogger and MA Fellowship alumna, Emily Washington—have gone on to do great things. Some have secured public policy positions in federal and state government; others work at prominent research institutions. If you are interested, you better hurry. The application deadline for Fall 2013 is March 1, 2013. Apply here.

Welcome Andrea

NFX readers will notice a new name appearing in their RSS feeds. I’m delighted to welcome my coauthor Andrea Castillo to the blog. When she isn’t coauthoring with me, she’s coauthoring with more eminent scholars such as Florida State’s Randall Holcombe (don’t miss their excellent forthcoming paper on the ways cronyism manifests itself in various economic and political structures). And when she isn’t coauthoring with anyone, she is keeping the Mercatus trains running on time as a program associate. You will soon discover, as did I, that she is a superb writer and a gifted researcher. As exhibit A, see her first post on the mortgage interest deduction.

Welcome, Emily. Congratulations, Tate

You may have noticed a familiar name in the Neighborhood Effects cue. When she was working on her MA in economics here at Mercatus, Emily Washington used to contribute to this blog. We are pleased that after a stint in commercial real estate, Emily is now back at Mercatus. As the new Associate Director of State Outreach, she will help connect state policy makers with Mercatus scholars and their research. Luckily, she has also agreed to resume writing on this blog.

And speaking of transitions, another great writer and Mercatus alum, Tate Watkins, is now blogging over at His post on the Internet Tax is my favorite (but read them all).

Welcome Ben Vanmetre

Neighborhood Effects readers may have noticed a new author has joined us. Ben Vanmetre has already contributed a couple of excellent posts. Ben is a Mercatus MA fellow. Like many fellows, he has already developed an impressive CV in his nascent career. You can read Ben’s published papers, book reviews, and OpEds at his personal website. And you can learn more about the Mercatus Masters or Ph.D. programs at the Mercatus Graduate Student Programs website.

Note to readers: Ben joined us at an opportune time as I spent much of last week in the picturesque mountains of New Mexico not blogging (and, unfortunately, not catching any fish). I should be resuming my regular pace as soon as I adjust to the lack of sunshine in Arlington, VA.

Talk on States Fiscal Health at GMU, April 21

George Mason University’s Department of Public and International Affairs is hosting Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association, on April 21 from 4 to 6 PM for a talk entitled “The State Fiscal Situation, Health Care Reform and Federalism.” This should be of interest for most of the readers of this blog. The talk will be in Enterprise Hall on GMU’s Fairfax Campus. Continue reading

Bob Nelson Speaking at Mercatus

On Wednesday, November 11, Robert Nelson will be speaking at Mercatus about the rise of sublocal governance. His talk is from 12:30 to 2 in room 121 of George Mason University’s Hazel Hall, 3301 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington and yes, lunch will be provided. Here’s the blurb:

Professor Nelson will discuss the growing importance of sublocal forms of governance. The rise of private community associations, in which 20 percent of Americans now live, is a leading example.  The spread of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is another important case.  Sublocal governments can specialize and otherwise more effectively address urban problems that have defied the efforts of conventional city governments. Professor Nelson will explore what this means for city and urban governance and the provision of public goods at various levels of government.

We will livestream the event here at Neighborhood Effects, technology willing. Anyone in the Washington area is welcome to attend, ask questions, and meet your bloggers in person. Email Megan Mahan (mmahan /at/ gmu /dot/ edu) to register or call 703-993-4930.

Bob Nelson Guestblogging

I’m thrilled to announce that Robert H. Nelson, professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and visiting senior scholar at the Mercatus Center, will be guestblogging on Neighborhood Effects through May.

Bob’s expertise are in the fields of local land use and zoning, economic ethics, and federal land policy. Most recently, he’s the author of Moving Past Kelo: A New Institution for Land Assembly — Collective Neighborhood Bargaining Associations in the Mercatus Policy Series and Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government, published in 2005 by the Urban Institute Press. Before becoming a professor at Maryland, Bob worked in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior between 1975 and 1993 and thus brings expertise as both a practitioner and a scholar. He earned his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.

I first became acquainted with Bob’s work in Addis Ababa in 2005 in the library of the Ethiopian Economics Association, where I picked up a copy of his 2001 book Economics As Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond and began skimming the introduction. Back in the US, I bought a copy and read it cover to cover. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable take on the role of economists within society, and one that’s especially relevant in light of the current financial crisis.

Bob, it’s a pleasure to have you on board. Welcome!