You may recall that the last time I wrote for the Murphy Center column, I wrote on Dr. Janet Yellen, one of the leading women in economics and one of my professional heroes. From the moment I finished and submitted that piece, my colleagues and I began naming other extraordinary female economists we would have liked to include.
So, although women’s history month is now behind us, I have decided to devote one more week to summarizing the contributions of a couple more economics heroes who are also women.
The first name that comes to my mind when I think of women in economics is Elinor Ostrom. Dr. Ostrom’s formal education was in political science, but she was the first — and, so far, the only — female to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. She was also a friend and co-author of my advisor in graduate school, so I “grew up” as an economist hearing about her and admiring her work.
Ostrom’s Prize-winning work was on effective management of common resource goods. These are goods, such as neighborhood dog park, which everyone may use but which will become unpleasant and/or unusable over time if no one takes responsibility for maintaining it. Ostrom showed that the successful management of such resources can be accomplished by small groups of invested and accountable individuals without government intervention.
My favorite Ostrom contributions are in the field of economic development. She spent much of her career studying developing economies and contributed much to our understanding of what types of aid are helpful and what types are harmful to local economies.
Another of the most influential women in economics is Anne Krueger. Many believe Dr. Krueger will be the world’s second female recipient of the Noble Prize for Economics. Dr. Krueger earned her PhD in Economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1958 and has spent her career both in academia and with significant stints at The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. She currently holds research positions at Stanford, Johns Hopkins and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Her work is so extensive that her Curriculum Vitae is 44 pages long and begins with a table of contents.
Anne Krueger first became well-known for her work on a topic she named rent seeking. In this case, rent is best understood as profit, and rent seeking occurs when firms devote resources to obtaining and maintaining profit through political means. For example, Georgia Power, a regulated monopolist, has 30 lobbyists registered with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission in 2019. These lobbyists are rent seeking on Georgia Power’s behalf, working to maintain their monopoly and arguing against lowering utility rates. Krueger showed that rent seeking causes inefficiencies in markets since resources are being spent playing politics rather than improving production.
Since her publications on rent seeking, Krueger has spent her career working in international trade and economic development, including application of rent seeking in developing economies, where individuals or firms devoted immense resources to obtaining licenses to import goods, draining resources that could have been used to further production in those economies. She also showed that tariffs and protectionist policies do not benefit industry in developing economies.
This brings me to the common thread among my heroes, both male and female, in economics. They not only have incredible academic ability, but they devote that ability to making the world a better place for others.
Dr. Melissa Trussell is a professor in the School of Business and Public Management at College of Coastal Georgia who works with the college’s Reg Murphy Center for Economic and Policy Studies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.