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He writes about his research with David Stifel, assistant professor of economics

Teevrat Garg ’10 (Haryana, India), who is pursuing a B.S. in mathematics and an A.B. with a major in economics and business, is working as an EXCEL Scholar with David Stifel, assistant professor of economics, on a project examining the demand for labor in Madagascar. Garg also is a member of Lafayette’s Forensics Society, which took first place in the Division III speech portion of The National Forensics Association’s National Tournament.

One of the fundamental issues of the 20th and the 21st centuries has been to understand the process of economic growth and economic development. At the heart of economic development is the idea that people in underprivileged parts of the world should have the opportunity to access a higher standard of living. After all, as economist Amartya Sen argues, development is the ability of individuals to access greater real freedoms. After taking Professor Stifel’s economic development course last fall, I was very interested in delving further into this field.

I am interested in this field for two reasons. First, I am intrigued by the study of low-income countries and understanding how they can break away from poverty traps. As a field of academia, it presents boundless possibilities and challenges. Second, the policy implications of this field of study are profound – making it possible to not just increase incomes, but in several cases, to save countless lives. This EXCEL project allows me to serve both these interests.

Professor Stifel and I are trying to understand the determinants of labor demand in Madagascar. Because labor is abundant in Madagascar, increasing labor demand is the key to inclusive and broad-based economic growth. In particular, we are formalizing and refining results for an Institut National de la Statistiques (the national statistical office of Madagascar) study that will have immediate policy implications.

To understand how to increase labor demand, it’s important to characterize its determinants. In the U.S., this can be a relatively simple task given the enormous amount of data that the U.S. government has through the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, in Madagascar this becomes a tricky task because of the lack of data. For instance, most firms in Madagascar consist of one or two people with a high incidence of family labor. In such cases, the firms are not actually “paying” their employees, even though they are deriving benefits from the firm. Thus, there is a lack of easy data on wage rates. Our study involves getting through some of these obstacles and providing sound analysis that will help shape effective and persuasive policy.

I have learned a lot under Professor Stifel’s guidance. His enthusiasm for development economics has drawn me deeper into this field of research. Not only have I learned more about labor organization and its impact on poverty alleviation, I have also gained technical knowledge in data analysis and programming statistical software. These are invaluable skills, especially because I am interested in pursuing economics at the post-graduate level.

Too often, economics is labeled as harsh and ignorant of the troubles of the real world. After all, it is called the “dismal science.” Interestingly, Professor Stifel and I have also had several discussions on ethics in development economics. It was in these discussions that we looked beyond the numbers and the math and tried to understand the humanistic level of our research. These discussions on ethics have helped me further appreciate the responsibility and obligations of our work.

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