My Research Philosophy

My professional work is rooted in an interdisciplinary context, both in style and substance. I bring my background---which comprises a range of varied experiences including stints in academia, a public policy institute, and the private sector---into the classroom, as well as to my research papers. Moreover, my training in economics, politics, and computer science, in several different continents, allows me to meld the toolsets and paradigms from these disparate fields into an integrated framework for understanding the world. This diversity on several fronts, I believe, is what sets my work apart from others.

My approach to research is one of informed inquiry. The world is a complex place. As such, I believe in the utility of careful mathematical modeling, which makes problems to be analyzed explicit, lays out their limitations, and allows for the potential to yield otherwise counterintuitive findings. But there is little place for casual empiricism: All theoretical models need to confront the data. The underlying complementarity of theory and empirics, and back again, is what I would regard as a guiding principle for my research. My particular modeling strategy reflects my concern for the pervasiveness of political power structures, which includes the importance of heterogeneity in society, and the conditioning role of institutional mechanisms.

My research agenda can be divided into four broad research fronts: Positive international political economy; international finance; comparative political economy in development; and international technology policy. The bulk of my current research efforts are focused on modeling the interactions between international trade and financial phenomena---such as trade volumes, exchange rates and regimes, and currency crises---and political-economic pressures, including political risk, special interest politics, legislative bargaining, and social movement formation. This agenda goes beyond my dissertation. For example, I have a paper, currently on R&R status with Economics of Governance, which uses a gravity model to explore the impact that democratic regimes exert on bilateral trade flows between two countries. I also have a paper, under review with the Journal of International Development, which employs several instruments in order to disentangle the endogeneity problem between political regimes and economic growth.

It my view, there are deep unanswered questions that remain in international macroeconomics and trade, and that explicitly combining the interdisciplinary perspective of economics and politics offers a rich treasure trove of potential answers. I hope to pursue issues along this frontier for a good number of years to come. Why are intermediate exchange rate regimes so popular, and can they ever be sustained indefinitely? If financial variables in politically unstable countries appear to be excessively volatile, can we peer into the black box that we call political risk? What explains growth in some emerging markets, while growth seems to be anemic in others? These are all questions that appear amenable to careful consideration of different political-economic influences, and indeed economists and political scientists have begun to frame research projects along these lines.

My work in other areas usually involves an international component---a reflection of my underlying interest and training. These have resulted in several publications, some in refereed journals. In a coauthored paper (with Tracy Yang), we utilized a sequence of empirical tests, culminating in SVAR methods, to Thai data in order to determine whether the common prescription of competitive exchange rate devaluations was actually expansionary or contractionary. In another coauthored paper (with Chia Siow Yue), we applied the insights from New Economic Geography as a conceptual framework for understanding Singapore’s aspirations to be a regional hub in information and communications technology.

Economists are in the business of understanding the world, so that it can be a better place. It is my conviction that research questions that are divorced from contemporary issues and problems---no matter how mathematically elegant or analytically rigorous---are of limited value. Normative analyses, therefore, typically accompany my positive research.