Thursday, July 28, 2011

Looking For Questions

I can sooooo relate to the problem outlined in this post:

How to find a topic for an economics research essay

Calculus. Years of macro theory. Micro theory. Econometrics. Study the lecture notes, practice old exams, give the prof what he or she wants. It works.

Until the day the prof says "Come up with an original research topic."

Panic. "But no one's ever taught me how to be original."

Finding an original research topic is a bit like finding a friend or a lover or a soulmate. There's no magic formula that guarantees you will meet the one person who is right for you. But you can do things that will stack the odds in your favour…

I've been putting off starting on a doctoral thesis because I haven't found a topic I'm "in love" with. I could build on my Masters thesis on exchange rate valuation, but that would be boring – it’s like retracing your steps, and mining ground you’ve already dug up once before.

I don’t have any passion for micro, so that’s out of the picture. Neither am I really enamoured of some of the sexier topics of today, such as behavourial economics or financial economics. Ideally I’d want to do something relevant to policy, that is, something of some practical purpose rather than just another math exercise, as James Hamilton puts it here.

But I’m also operating under the constraint that I’ll need a local supervisor who’s actually familiar with whatever topic that I’d want to pick (I can only do a PhD part time), and a browse-through of the local professorial talent reveals a disappointingly narrow range of research interests. So for the last couple of years I’ve been in a holding pattern, picking at a range of potential topics but never really settling on one.

But I’d really want to get a start on things by the end of this year, so if you guys want to help me out a bit here, feel free to suggest potential PhD research topics in the comments. I promise to look at every one seriously.

And hey, even if I don’t use’em, they might make good topics for blog posts!


  1. How about industry value analysis for something like: ?

    That would enable you to leverage what you know to crowbar into local industries, building networks of contacts for your future career advancement, and at the same time help the country in one area where it conspicuously needs professional brains of the highest calibre - at the interface between economics and industry?

    I don't know if any of the twinning programmes hide a PhD supervisor who might be able to help but ..can try? Maybe s.he knows of someone somewhere on this planet who fits the bill?

    Let me categorically say this here and now - if you don't do it, the world will be immensely poorer. And i also mean that in the material sense as a possible outcome of any research you may do.

    In reading your thought processes, "you da man". 'Nuff said!

    If you need any literature to help you achieve your goal, just outline the requirements in your blog. What given, returned.

    walla ;)

  2. is that realy hard if students from BBA (hons) Marketing wanted to do Master In Econs despite of MBA???

    is that logic path??? :p

  3. Perhaps you can narrow it down to some areas of macro so that we can give more useful suggestions? It really is still a very broad area.

    You can do something on escaping the middle income trap in Malaysian and South East Asian context?

    Or what about Malaysia's continued dependence on foreign labour?

    Comparing the post 1997-1998 Asian crisis paths of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand? Are the IMF bailouts as bad as some people make it out to be?

    Are you looking for something very empirical and mathematically rigorous or something more theoretical?

  4. I read quite a lot of articles on 'Basic Income Guarantee'. It sounds like a good idea but I don't have the necessary expertise to decide if it's any good. Apparently many prominent economists past and present endorse(d) it, even Chicago School and Austrian ones. Perhaps it could qualify as one for the blog post? Thanks.

  5. @Walla,

    Thank you sir. And thanks for the interesting paper.

    @Living Seed

    I'd encourage it, but only if you feel your math is up to scratch. You'll need a good grounding in probability theory and matrices for macro, and advanced calculus for micro.


    Thanks for the pointers - nice suggestions. For the record, I don't believe Malaysia is in a middle income trap (good topic for a blog post though).

    The post-Asian crisis experience has been researched to death. Whether IMF involvement was good or bad depends on perspective - short or long term. Empirically, the IMF countries recovered faster and more strongly, but experienced more short term pain.

    Yeah, I'm looking for something more empirical than theoretical. I've actually thought of looking at the impact of introducing capital gains taxes on wealth and income inequality - it's not a subject that's been really touched on in the literature even in developed countries (most concentrate on the fiscal and investment effects). But it's going to be fun trying to find a supervisor for that topic here.


    You know, I was thinking along something of the same lines last year with reference to the Fed's QE program, although on a one time basis only. It's certainly an idea worth exploring, though I have a lot of doubts regarding how well it would work on an economy wide scale.

  6. @Hazrul,

    You might want to read this:

  7. What about trade suspension mechanisms? You mentioned that you are interested in topics that have policy relevance, and this might play to your professional strength and contacts as an economist in the financial sector.

    This topic is also what I might write a dissertation on when I start graduate school.

  8. Thanks for the link. It's a very good read. I'm inclined to think any redistribution based on wages will increase red tape and hike implementation costs. Still, it's better than anything that we have right now.
    After all, the govt grants fuel subsidy to all, without classifications. Might as well take away subsidy and give cash, right? :) Thanks again.

  9. I think you should do a research on either 1) affirmative action and competition : what is the road ahead or 2) who make America a great economy success in the past : the cowboy or economist?