Inquiry at the Highest Level: Honors Seminar in Economic Research

How can we use economics to change the world? While the question may seem daunting, it is one students in Brianne Foley’s Honors Seminar in Economic Research are working to answer.

How can we use economics to change the world?

          While the question may seem daunting, it is one students in Brianne Foley’s Honors Seminar in Economic Research are working to answer.

          “Each student wrote a very significant—epic, really—research paper on a topic of their choosing,” explains Foley. “They were also tasked with defending their theses in presentations to an audience that included classmates, faculty members, and school administrators. This is high-level and challenging work, but these are are some of the most impressive students in our school.”

          Honors Seminar in Economic Research is an advanced-level research class designed to help students further develop their research skills through deep dives and thoughtful exploration into current and global economic issues. The students marry applied critical thinking skills with the foundational understanding of economic theory—economic indicators, development, government policy, market structures, labor markets, game theory, externalities—gleaned through their prior economics and mathematics courses. For many, the research topics were personal.

          “I visited Shanghai for the first time when I was seven, and I was fascinated by the contrast between the west and east sides of its Bund. On the west side, there are immense colonial structures in Gothic, Neo-Classical, and Baroque architectural styles. On the east side, there are futuristic skyscrapers that sprouted up in the past four decades. As a seven-year-old, I never really investigated this further,” says senior Spencer Louie. “During the past semester, I researched where it all began. I delved into China’s treaty port era, also known as the “century of humiliation” and as a period of “unequal treaties.” Investigating this period in China, I learned about the long-term economic impacts that it had. It explains a lot of China’s economic growth in the past four decades, that has astonished everyone.”

          For others, their work was an effort to help understand and contextualize issues affecting Taft students.

          “I researched the 1973 Cold War oil crisis, and connected it with the Israel-Palestine and Russia-Ukraine conflicts occurring now,” explains Anmay Suriv’24. “I wanted to research this because of the way these current global events are impacting our Taft community—the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Israel-Palestine conflict and all the communities that are affected by both. For me, the most impactful part of the research was just seeing the history and the trajectory of how oil crises align with different areas of conflict, as well as how they affect the global market.”

          Topics ranged from basic financial literacy and the modern defense industry to studies of the film and pharmaceutical industries.

          Overall, the research was formidable, notes Foley, but also rewarding. For some, it may simply be a starting point.

          “For me, learning how different the experience of going back to China is knowing this history is significant,” notes Louie. “But I realized that there is still so much to uncover about this fascinating topic—how many different avenues there are left for me to explore.”

A look at the research:

Rina Kurihara ’24
The Pacific War: Justification of War as a Long-Run Economic Solution

“Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War, shaped by economic miscalculations, ultimately led to its remarkable recovery and strategic shifts that surpassed its pre-war capabilities. While a war inevitably involves significant economic costs, in the long run, it may act as an economic catalyst. Although this notion may remain controversial and morally questionable, our history and economic theories presented by Smith and Schumpeter prove this to be justifiable. Peace may not always ensure progress, but war may be justified as a solution for global long-term economic growth.”

Spencer J. Louie ’24
The Paradox of Power: Western Intervention in 19th Century China and the Making of China’s Post-1978 Economy

“In this period, China’s antiquated imperial political structures were uprooted, and the foundation for its immense economic growth after 1978 under a unique party-state capitalism was established. Above all, this era catalyzed China’s commitment to modernization and to ensuring its sovereignty. Understanding this historical paradox is imperative for understanding far more than contemporary China’s economics: its place in the world, its approach to foreign relations, and its ongoing quest for global influence and autonomy—in one way or another—all of which stems from the sentiments and events of its treaty of port era.”

Max Rivera ’24
Hispanic Migration: Dissecting the Low-Skilled Labor Market and Analyzing the Future of the U.S. Economy

“Capitalism requires competition in its markets, including the labor market. Despite the fact that management and professional occupational sectors remain barely touched by the Latino population, it is essential that Hispanics become qualified to compete in more demanding and selective labor markets. This will create unprecedented economic growth. Adam Smith’s invisible hand will be lit aflame as competition will force entrepreneurs to innovate new goods and services thus creating new markets and expanding the nation’s economy. The process to achieve this economic growth requires combining and empowering the Hispanic population to strive for educational opportunities.”

Roman Rosenberg ’24: Financial Literacy: Understanding the Benefits of a Financially Literate Population

Anmay K. Suri ’24
The Prevention of a Conflict-Motivated Oil Crisis in The United States of America

“Conflict with countries such as the Middle East is inevitable due to the vast ideological and political differences between the regions; disagreement is bound to occur. The problem lies with the effects of these conflicts in the energy market. In the midst of conflict with these foreign oil suppliers, the suppliers restrict their oil exports to lower the country's economic efficiency in hopes that it would harm the efficacy of the United States military during a violent conflict; this restriction ultimately results in a domestic oil price shock in the United States, raising gasoline prices and making the future of the energy market unsure. While preventing conflict with oil suppliers such as Russia and the Middle East is nearly impossible, it is possible to counter the effects of that conflict by prioritizing the mutual growth of economies while putting aside the ideological differences that cause the conflicts between America and these regions filled with ‘black gold.’”

William Theiss ’24
The Modern Defense Industry: An Analysis of the Military Industrial Complex

“The high levels of defense spending in the early 20th century, in addition to the creation of certain economic and political precedents, would create the American Military Industrial Complex. As Eisenhower noted, the MIC is the ‘new in the American experience.’ The American economy, in many ways, relies on the defense industry to drive economic growth. In spite of this importance, however, the nature of the MIC perverts basic American political and moral principles by establishing the potential for collusion between contractors and government, in addition to creating incentives to fund and profit off of war. As the United States continues to be a source of power on the world stage, it is important to understand the underpinnings of its military strength in addition to the potential economic, social, and political threats it poses.”

Michael Xu ’25
Problematic Patents and Pharmaceutical Prosperity: Potentiating Producers, Patients, and Policymakers

“The only method to eventually convince the government to restructure patents and subsidization is to raise awareness for the numerous benefits. This involves educating the general public and, especially, policymakers on the economic and health benefits of the change and the careful consideration of all stakeholders involved when developing the proposal for this change. A reformed patent system, paired with more strategic subsidization, can stimulate more efficient drug development, ultimately resulting in more high-quality drugs. Shifting the focus from short-run fiscal concerns to long-run economic growth is essential to optimizing the pharmaceutical industry and have the U.S. core economy continue its sustainable prosperity.”

Steven Yang ’24: The Short- and Long-Term Consequences of the Chinese “Third Child” Policy

Luke Zhang ’24
Navigating the Evolving Landscape and Sustainability of the Film Industry: Streaming Revolution, Government Policies and Cultural Impacts

“The film industry is an increasingly competitive environment. With the introduction of online streaming platforms, the business has been revolutionized and more factors need to be considered by both film producers and the audience to ensure maximum profitability and utility. For the cinematic film business to not only survive but thrive in this fierce competition with online streaming platforms, it is crucial that they develop a specific niche to differentiate their products from those online. Things such as release windows (i.e., transition to online in no later than five weeks of release) and IMAX film contents can be marketed to achieve such an effect. Most importantly, this study provides insight into the cultural impacts of this rapidly evolving business. Films are more than mere entertainment. They are postcards that represent the good and bad of a nation, a convenient political propaganda, and an inspiring portrait for both domestic and foreign consumption.”

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