Faculty in focus: Meet Anthony Becker

Behind the desk in office 414E of Holland Hall sits Professor of Economics Anthony Becker, well-known in his department for his rigorous but fascinating classes. Countless books, papers and files cover the tabletops, walls and floor of the office.

“He thinks it makes him look like he’s a busy person,” his wife, Professor of Economics Rebecca Judge said. Nevertheless, he has certainly accomplished a lot in the field of economics.

Before coming to St. Olaf, Becker graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics and obtained his PhD from Duke University. He specialized in econometrics, industrial organization and public finance. After graduating from Duke, he taught for two years at Northeastern University but left to start teaching at St. Olaf in 1987. Becker enjoys teach- ing at St. Olaf and particularly likes that he can work beside Judge.

“One of the real attractions to the job here is that we get to work together and do research together,” Becker said.

Becker has taught a number of different classes in the economics department, including microeconomic theory, game theory, principles of economics and previously offered classes such as sports economics and business and government. His favorite class, however, is econometrics. Becker enjoys teaching time series econometrics, which studies how certain variables,

such as prices, change over time in a dynamic system.

“Once you have mastered time series analysis, you can do really interesting things like forecasting, and analysis of macro- economic policy, fiscal policy, monetary policy and looking at the effects of, let’s say, oil prices on the macro economy or the Federal Reserve policy on unemployment and inflation. Things

you can’t do with just normal statistical analysis,” Becker said. Outside of class, Becker’s research interests vary from the effect of US agricultural policies on agricultural production in countries such as Costa Rica and Argentina to studying why there is such a great disparity between the number of women

studying economics and the number of men.

Alongside Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson, Becker is looking to investigate this gender disparity further through a project called the Undergraduate Women in Economics challenge.

“St. Olaf is pretty typical in that 35 percent of our [economics] majors are women. Of course, at St. Olaf about 54 percent of the student body is female and so we have a real underrepre- sentation, and the question is why,” he said.

Becker and Hodgson are hoping to answer that question and change this imbalance. Through their project, funded by the National Bureau of Economic research, Becker said that they hope to “look at maybe changing some of the ways we do things and adding some interventions to try to encourage more wom- en to major in economics.”

Becker also published a research paper last year that he had been working on for several years with his wife. Becker and Judge investigated whether or not the Unites States’ farm sub- sidy program influences output.

“And that’s an important issue, because the World Trade Or- ganization says you can’t have subsidy programs that are distor- tionary and affect output. We claim that our subsidy programs don’t affect output, but our findings were very strong in sug- gesting that in fact they do,” Becker said.

They also studied the effect of American subsidies on Costa Rican agricultural production, and they are continuing to look at the effects on Argentinean agricultural production.

“There was a big controversy about imports of agricultural products to Costa Rica from the United States. Because of the subsidies, they could underprice the Costa Rican farmers. Sev- en years later we were in Argentina for a semester and looked at the effect of the US subsidies. Because US subsidies affect the world price and the world price affects Argentinian production of corn and soybeans. That’s really where the research is head- ing now – to look at Argentina, their production and how our agricultural policies influence Argentina.”