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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Doug Irwin

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Doug Irwin3.jpgDoug Irwin is the John Sloan Dickey Third Century Professor in the Social Sciences in the Department of Economics and an expert in the history and application of trade policy, especially free trade in the United States — a hot button topic during this 2016 Presidential campaign.

Irwin was a New Hampshire native long before he ever taught economics at the College. After growing up in Durham, he went to the University of New Hampshire for his undergraduate degree, earning a B.A. in political science and graduating magna cum laude for his efforts. While he didn’t major in economics, Irwin realized by his junior year that understanding economic theory more deeply was a better path for him to analyze government policy.

Irwin went on to Columbia for his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics. He spent his third year as a junior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, where he saw how many people in government followed or ignored the tenets of free trade based on their own interest. After receiving his doctorate in 1988, Irwin took a position at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in its division of international finance. Three years later he started teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (known since 2008 as the Booth School of Business). Irwin came home to New Hampshire and Dartmouth in 1997.

Irwin has been a prolific researcher and writer on the subject of free trade, with six books to his name so far. Many of them dive into the history of economic theory and practice. His 1996 book, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade, explains how the idea of free trade has persevered despite pressure against it ever since Adam Smith’s day. In Trade Policy Disaster: Lessons from the 1930s and Peddling Protectionism: Smoot-Hawley and the Great Depression, Irwin takes readers back to some of this country’s darkest economic days. He also co-authored a paper in the Journal of Economic History that examined the outbreak of protectionist trade policies during the Great Depression, finding that countries still on the gold standard imposed the highest tariff barriers. Through our recent economic downturn, independent national banks that could adjust monetary policy proved more nimble in providing economic stimulus.

Here Irwin talks about the effects of the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Act:

All of this work makes Irwin one of the top researchers at the College. According to Google Scholar, he has nearly 9,000 individual citations and an h-index of 46.

Irwin has argued for free trade policies in the popular media as well. Most recently, he wrote an article for Foreign Affairs that discussed the “age-old tradition” of free trade-bashing in presidential campaigns — as well as the unique nature of today’s “bipartisan bombardment” from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. He also has written op-eds for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times.

At Dartmouth, Irwin currently teaches Economics 39: International Trade, where he is known for giving out four-colored pens embossed with the name of the course, and Economics 79: The Clash of Economic Ideas. He also serves as co-director of the Political Economy Project (PEP), an educational initiative that he founded with Professors Meir Kohn and Russ Muirhead. PEP has its own professors; hosts guest speakers; and Irwin, Kohn and Muirhead invite students to participate in regular Monday-night dinners and reading groups.

Addendum: The strength of Irwin’s character as a teacher is perhaps best summed up by a story that Dartblog has previously noted. When Canadian high school student Jonathan Pedde reached out to dozens of economics professors at different universities to which he was considering applying, only one professor responded to his queries and agreed to meet with him. Irwin came to campus on a Saturday afternoon to do so. Pedde was accepted at the College, matriculated with the Class of 2014, and later won a Rhodes Scholarship.


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