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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Nina Pavcnik

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:

Nina Pavchik.jpgNina Pavcnik is the Niehaus Family Professor in International Studies and Professor of Economics at the College. She is a specialist in international trade, specifically how workers and businesses are affected by and respond to the economic changes brought about by globalization.

Pavcnik’s specialty is hardly surprising considering where she grew up. She was born and raised in an area of Yugoslavia that would become Slovenia, only a few hundred yards from the area’s border with Italy. Her town had been arbitrarily divided after World War II, and her family routinely crossed the border to buy the clothes and food that they couldn’t find on their side. Pavcnik came to the United States for the first time as a high school senior, spending a year as an exchange student in Minnesota.

Pavcnik studied economics at Yale, earning Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude honors. She then did her Ph.D. at Princeton. Her dissertation, which would become her most cited paper so far (“Trade liberalization, exit, and productivity improvements”) examined the effects of trade liberalization on the productivity of businesses in Chile during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The study was entirely based on real statistics from micro-surveys taken of firms before, during, and after globalization impacted the Chilean market. The main takeaway: a large part of the efficiency gained through more open trade derives from the fact that only the strong survive. In other words, weak businesses decline and often fail, while the best operated and most productive ones grow.

Pavcnik has continued to explore these themes. Another paper she co-authored that garnered more than 1,000 individual citations was a survey of the winners and losers of globalization. Saying trade is bad or good, as our politicians are wont to do, is hardly sufficient. According to Google Scholar, Pavcnik has more than 7,300 citations and a h-index of 23.

Pavcnik has also teamed up with her husband, Eric Edmonds, another Dartmouth Economics professor, on papers about child labor in developing countries. In two papers (here and here) they examined data from Vietnam and India in the early 1990s. Their work disproved the common assumption that trade directly caused greater demand for child labor. Rather, globalization often reduces child labor because the strongest underlying mechanism determining the practice is poverty. When trade causes household incomes to rise, the incidence of child labor goes down, and when trade lowers incomes, child labor goes up.

Her current research keeps a spotlight on Vietnam and the aftermath of the 2001 U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement. Pavcnik is interested in why so many small businesses survive in places where they are often ineffective. Neither relieving credit constraints nor offering formal business training tends to improve these firms. The main trigger for growth in larger businesses over smaller ones is access to a new, larger export market. Learn more about international trade in her Presidential Faculty Lecture from last year:

Pavcnik is also a star in the classroom, where she regularly teaches international trade (Econ 39) and the international trade culminating experience (Econ 49). In the former, she tries to give students a framework for understanding how they are impacted by globalization — no matter where they end up or what field they enter. She calls the more advanced class one of her most rewarding experiences each year because students take what they’ve learned and embark on their own original economics research.

In her spare time, Pavcnik is the co-editor of the Journal of International Economics, associate editor of the American Economic Review, and external member at the World Bank Research Committee. She has also consulted for the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Labor, the World Trade Organization, and the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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