Economics evidence talks all the way to the White House

12 September 2017

ADI and Deakin Business School Professor Chris Doucouliagos has been conferred with Deakin’s highest honour.

The Alfred Deakin Institute’s (ADI) newest Alfred Deakin Professor Chris (Hristos) Doucouliagos appreciates how little things take on a life of their own in economics, with their effects felt as far as the White House.

The Alfred Deakin title is Deakin University’s highest honour and recognises Professor Doucouliagos’ 32-year contribution to furthering Deakin’s research, teaching and learning aims.

Professor Doucouliagos, who works in the Deakin Business School, teaches 1434 first-year students the fundamentals of economics, but it is his research, particularly in the field of meta-analysis (an area of statistics), that has allowed him to make a strong topical contribution to public debate.

His latest work highlights how inequality effects the economy and governments’ ability to solve it, and shows how inequality makes it harder for governments to raise taxes.

He has also just published a co-authored book with Harvard University Professor of Economics, Richard Freeman and Deakin colleague Professor Patrice Laroche looking at the economic impact of Trade Unions.

It was, however, his work on the US minimum wage with Tom Stanley, Professor of Economics at Hendrix College (US), that he considers his most significant career highlight.

“It really just started out looking at a technical problem and developed a life of its own,” he said.

“It was a great honour that the White House saw that as important.”

Professor Doucouliagos and Professor Stanley applied newly-developed meta-analysis methods to 64 US minimum wage studies, finding little or no evidence of a negative association between raising minimum wages and employment.

Their study was used to support an Obama Administration push to raise the US minimum wage from US$7.25 to US$10.10.

Professor Doucouliagos’ pathway to the discipline of economics was linear. He pursued it at undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral levels, but at high school his love was philosophy.

“I did economics because I wanted to get a job,” he said. “I came from a working class family, my parents were both factory workers. It was drummed into me I had to get a job. It was very practical.”

Professor Doucouliagos migrated to Australia in 1969 and was the second in his family to go to University.

“My parents encouraged it. My father went to grade three and my mother finished high school,” he said.

“It was hard here initially because people spoke in a different language, and then at school the teacher called me Chris, I didn’t know who Chris was.

“I knew I had settled in Australia when I started to think in English.”

Professor Doucouliagos said economics was a fundamental discipline and provided a framework for looking at issues such as the environment, ageing and health.

“You can use it to look at just about anything, even space exploration,” he said. “The framework is very transferable so you can collaborate with other disciplines.”

Professor Doucouliagos’ specialist area of expertise is meta-analysis and research synthesis, an interest sparked during his PhD.

“At the time we didn’t know it was going to take off, but it did,” he said. “It involves synthesising the evidence base, which is very important in areas such as medicine, the social sciences and economics.

“Meta-analysis allows us to overcome or correct for biases or weaknesses in the original studies and data and, by doing so, create a statistically-valid picture. Policy makers need credible information, but, of course, they are constrained by electoral cycles and voters and don’t always act on the best evidence.”

Professor Doucouliagos said part of the fun of economics was appreciating the imperfection.

“I like imperfect worlds. They are fascinating because we live in them and we have to take actions in them,” he said.

“Research isn’t perfect, politicians are imperfect, scientists are imperfect; all of this makes research and life much more interesting.”

By Deakin Research

For all media enquiries please contact Deakin’s media team.

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Professor Doucouliagos and Professor Stanley applied newly-developed meta-analysis methods to 64 US minimum wage studies, finding little or no evidence of a negative association between raising minimum wages and employment.

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Professor Doucouliagos and Professor Stanley applied newly-developed meta-analysis methods to 64 US minimum wage studies, finding little or no evidence of a negative association between raising minimum wages and employment.

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