RPP #1: Research Interest

My interest in contemporary economics, particularly labor and behavioral economics, began as a study of historical narration in those fields and a personal interest of determining the first luxury good in research conducted last year. Currently,my research interests surround the relationship between international foreign direct investment into developing nations and resulting economic policymaking in those nations. In particular, I have an interest in the increasing role Israeli influence has played in Sub Saharan Africa. (1) A specific puzzle, or question, I have wondered in this area is regarding the potential influence Israel has had in the widespread economic liberalization in Sub Saharan African labor markets since the early 1980s.(2) Israel’s relation to Sub Saharan African nations itself is a puzzle, as most African nations- aside from the North African nations led by Egypt, who wholly condemn Israel- are generally supportive in open trade agreements with Israel, despite their neighbors being so staunchly opposed to such deals. (3)


I am also interested in the recent trend of economists led by Kahnemann, Tversky and Thaler to focus increasingly on psychological stimuli causing humans to act irrationally, creating the field of behavioral economics. (4) Continuing with the International Relations theme discussed earlier, I would like to study the effects of this theoretical transition from the classical-Austrian school of economics to contemporary economics in Sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly wondering what, if any, business interests are pushing for such a theoretical shift in the region. If I were to pursue this research, the primary difficulty to overcome would be obtaining documents (syllabi, working papers, and statistical data regarding tags and keywords in academic papers) as well as curriculum for economics courses in Sub-Saharan African nations in order to determine the schools of economics primarily taught. This question could be pursued while studying abroad at the AU Center in Nairobi, a location that I am interested in attending. Due to both of these potential research areas requiring large amounts of historical context to effectively understand the relationship between Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa, completely covering the entire field may take more than a year of research to study, leading to continued research in future courses. 



(1) Eldad Beck. “Most Greeks believe Israel is our only true ally in the region.” Israel Hayom, July 26, 2019; Grace Wermenbol. “Israel seeks new inroads on the African continent.’ Middle East Institute. February 19, 2019.

(2) Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudiger von Arnim. “Economic liberalization and constraints to development in Sub-Saharan Africa.” United Nations Economic and Social Affairs. September 2008. 

(3) Franzman, Seth. “Israel’s influence spreads across Africa.” The Tower. February 2017.

(4) Sunstein and Thaler. “Libertarian Paternalism is not an Oxymoron” AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies. May 2003





Author: Price

I am a student at the American University School of International Service pursuing a degree in International Affairs.

3 thoughts on “RPP #1: Research Interest”

  1. Price,
    I, too, am fascinated by the emerging idea in behavioral economics that questions the assumption of human rationality; for so long, one of the founding principles of economic theory was the idea that we think and behave at the margin. I’ve been following recent studies that seem to think otherwise: findings which seem more in tune with what we instinctively know about ourselves, which is that we are not, in fact, rational creatures. I think this is absolutely worth studying, and it’s particularly insightful that you’ve placed the issue on the global stage, which enables you to evaluate the cultural and geopolitical factors that may cause humans to interact with their economies in vastly different ways–which, of course, leads to the question: Is there a fundamental human standard of behavior by which we all are governed? Or do different cultural contexts lead us to have different economic thoughts, assumptions, and trends?
    I think you will find it interesting and immensely challenging to research the cause-and-effect nature of the diplomatic relationships and economic partnerships between two countries; there are, as you know, a multitude of factors that motivate—or deter—a particular country from becoming economically invested in another. It is brilliant that you’ve considered pursuing this topic further through ethnographic study in Nairobi; that will surely enable you to obtain a firsthand account of which economic philosophies prevail in the classroom and why.
    Although I’m sure you will spend countless hours poring over historical documents, I am curious to see what methodologies you end up choosing to help this project come to life. I think there is tremendous potential for a very fruitful small-n analysis; that is, using a select number of case studies to compare the Israel/Sub-Saharan Africa example to others of the same kind. Surprisingly, I also see potential for statistical analysis, in which you use market and labor trends to explain how certain policies—influenced by outside investors—have changed the economic makeup of a region. You could even (now I’m getting excited) conduct some sort of quantitative linguistic analysis where you analyze news sources from the region in question (think Wall Street Journal) to evaluate the particular language used and assumptions made to describe economic trends in the country.
    I look forward to seeing how this project grows and develops over the course of the year.

  2. You seem to have a lot of ideas developing within the labor economics field that are all really intriguing. I applaud you for pursuing a field which is often overlooked despite its great importance. Labor economics are truly the base of our economics as a whole while also being a projection of societies as a whole. For example, how workers are treated and which careers are valued are excellent reflections of a country’s priorities and values.

    Personally, I’d love to see you delve into researching why Israel holds such influence over and support from Sub-Saharan African countries. It is also good to keep in mind how difficult it might be to group together all Sub-Saharan African countries regarding economic policy. Instead, perhaps you could do comparative case studies of countries in this region, each with different speeds of economic growth, and compare the strength of Israeli economic influence based on this. Are those countries with more economic growth less likely to compromise on trade deals with Israel, despite condemnation of their actions? What economic or social factors most greatly affect which Sub-Saharan African countries pursue trade with Israel? I’d also urge you to consider the behavior economics behind this puzzle – why does economic incentive surpass moral suasion?

  3. Price — the general topic area that you outline here is a promising one for research and the potential connection to behavioral economics is also intriguing and promising. In the post you illustrate the puzzle with a case-specific example. What is the more general explanatory puzzle (zooming out to describe it in “why…?” or “what explains…?” terms without any specific place names)?

    As you continue your reading and research, you might focus more on *explanatory* puzzles (as Booth et al. and Abbott both discuss). What is the concrete, yet puzzling, state of affairs or outcome or trend that you want to explain? What specifically makes it puzzling? In particular, what have scholars highlighted as important parts to that puzzle? These are things to think about as you continue your background research!

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